Plenty of ideas have been bandied about for possible uses for the former North Carroll High School building. Commissioner Richard Weaver, who represents the Hampstead area, might have come up with the best one we’ve heard to date, but it’s one that would take a lot of support from the state to move forward.
The Board of County Commissioners sent a letter dated Aug. 30 to Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland House of Delegates, suggesting that the North Carroll building be used as space for a Next Generation 9-1-1 State Training Center.
NextGen 9-1-1 is a digital or Internet Protocol-based 911 system, an upgrade from the original analog 911 technology. Public safety answering points across the country are being upgraded to “create a faster, more resilient system that allows voice, photos, videos and text messages to flow seamlessly from the public to the 911 network,” according to the federal government’s 911 website.
The idea makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, the North Carroll facility is already being used as a police academy run by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, so adding another training center in the realm of public safety seems like a natural fit. Furthermore, it seems likely that there could be some partnerships and joint training scenarios between the police trainees and any dispatchers that would be working there.
Sheriff Jim DeWees said he envisions having recruits from police academies all over Maryland practicing scenario-based calls from the dispatchers. That kind of training, the sheriff said, “would be priceless for us.”
Weaver noted that North Carroll High was designed as a fallout shelter, which with some modifications, could serve as an emergency shelter site in case of a dangerous weather scenario.
The letter also notes that the building is a short distance along Md. 30 from the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in Reisterstown,which could allow for even more collaboration, and is a mile from downtown Hampstead with dining options for trainees.
Beyond that, by using the former school as a training center, it’s still considered an educational use. Part of the challenge between the county commissioners, who own the building, and the Town of Hampstead, which controls its zoning, has been that a change in the zoning to allow for commercial or industrial use would limit the ability of the facility to ever be used as a school again if growth in the Hampstead area made that a necessity.
Hampstead Mayor Christopher Nevin indicated the town is on board with Weaver’s idea.
Of course, the idea is almost wholly contingent on buy-in from the state — both figuratively and literally — since it would likely be footing the bill for any renovations that would be necessary at North Carroll such as an HVAC system and a new roof, along with any security and technological upgrades. So while we think a NextGen 9-1-1 Center at North Carroll is a great idea, what really matters is if the state does.
Weaver plans to hold a town hall-style meeting later this month to further discuss the idea and we look forward to hearing more about it, as well as the community’s feedback. We would hope that members of Carroll County’s delegation to Annapolis — all of the candidates for office — would attend such a meeting, as they will be instrumental in selling the idea to the governor and other lawmakers in Annapolis.
A NextGen 9-1-1 training center isn’t something that is required in Maryland right now. However, if it’s something the elected officials think could be useful to bring jobs and revenue to the state, then there is a good possibility they would be supportive of the idea.
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So far, it’s the best proposal we’ve heard for the North Carroll High School site, but must recognize that making it come to fruition wouldn’t be entirely in the county’s hands. We’re excited to see and hear what’s next.