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When Balto. Co. reassigns new office space, police come out on top


Christmas came a little late this year for Baltimore County Police Chief Cornelius J. Behan. But he wasn't complaining any, despite a nasty cold.

Behan and his police headquarters staff came out on top, quite literally, in the internal struggle over how to divide up the floors in the new public safety quarters in the former Blue Cross-Blue Shield building in the 700 block of E. Joppa Road. And Behan was all smiles.

After Behan met yesterday with new County Executive Roger B. Hayden, new Fire Chief Elwood H. Banister, administrative officer-designate Mereen Kelly and Hayden aide James M. McKinney, Behan's police were assigned all floors above the fourth in the 11-story building for exclusive police use.

The Fire Department got the second and third floors and part of the fourth, where Banister's office will be. The county data processing operation, which was to have been installed on the top floor, also lost out to the police. Its offices will remain under the Towson Courthouse Plaza fountain and may expand into the basement of the old courthouse, Hayden said.

After then-County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen bought the distinctive, mirror-walled Blue Cross building in 1989 for a combined police-fire headquarters for $12.5 million, Behan chafed over Rasmussen's plans to have the police chief and the fire chief share space on the ninth floor.

Behan won agreement for his view from both Hayden and Banister at the meeting.

Police and fire staffs will share the almost completed ninth floor dTC for some months, until space for the fire staff can be cleared of asbestos and remodeled on the lower floors. To keep costs down, Behan agreed not to ask for any new renovations.

Rasmussen's original plans were for the fire and police top staffs to share the ninth floor as an example of interagency cooperation. Fire officials then were to have the 10th floor, which they already occupy, and share the building cafeteria facilities on the sixth floor.

However, the example set was hardly cooperative, as police and fire officials clashed over who would have most of the 220 underground parking places at the expansive site, how to display their departmental seals on the building front and other space arrangements. The parking dispute still has not been concluded.

Behan considered the shared floor arrangement a security nightmare for the police, fearing that volunteer firefighters and other officials would have easy access to the floor where all his top commanders would be housed.

He has said he really wants the whole building for exclusive police use, though he realizes that the two public safety agencies must share the building for several years to come. The site has room and underground utilities for a possible second building.

Recently retired Fire Chief Paul H. Reincke was happy with the arrangement, since his agency was to get such prestigious space after years of being squeezed in former school buildings and firehouse additions.

There also have been tentative plans for a police-fire museum display in the building's first-floor lobby.

When the $13 million asbestos removal-renovation is complete, the current police headquarters at Kenilworth Drive and Bosley Avenue in Towson is to be renovated and converted to the Towson police precinct station house. The 1961 building is badly crowded with headquarters staff now, to the point that a portable green trailer has been placed on the parking lot for extra office space.

The current Towson station, built in 1927, is a tiny brick building in the 300 block of Washington Ave., near the Post Office.

Hayden said he will go along with that plan. No date has been set for completion of the public safety building renovations.

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