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Correcting Course on Police HQ Move


Logic triumphed over emotion in Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's decision to reverse himself on his plan to move police headquarters. Instead of relocating to Howard Street's old department-store district, the police command center will stay near City Hall. The high-rise building will undergo total interior reconstruction.

Mr. Schmoke chose the better of the two sites. Aside from the sky-high renovation costs, the old Hecht Co. building would have been a headache. It was too small to accommodate police department requirements, had poor vehicle access and could not have supported a helicopter landing pad.

Yet the mayor probably would have gone ahead with the site, nTC except that City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and Comptroller Jacqueline McLean were doubtful. They managed to block approval of much of the planning money.

When a more thorough examination of alternatives was conducted, the mayor realized the Hecht Co. option would cost a minimum of $47 million, whereas the current headquarters could be reconstructed for $37 million, including a new annex. (A third option, building a brand-new police headquarters, was estimated to cost $57 million).

Cost was a determining factor, but so was location. Why move the police headquarters from its high visibility location near the Jones Falls Expressway and soon-to-be-completed Metro line, if the current building can be cost-effectively reconstructed?

This hemming and hawing about the police headquarters location reflects poorly on the mayor and his administration, which tried to ram through a half-baked development idea. The comparative cost alternatives ought to have been done in the beginning, not in mid-stream.

The lengthy saga of Baltimore's police headquarters is a scandal that has never been fully aired. Constructed two decades ago for $13.6 million -- a whopping $42 million in today's money -- the building was defective the day it opened. It was full of asbestos. More incredibly, many of the ventilation ducts that showed on the blueprints were never installed, turning the building into an oven or freezer, depending on the season.

While we hail the mayor's decision on the police headquarters, we urge all elected city officials to make doubly sure that this shameful history of incompetence and neglect ends. The city cannot afford any more mistakes on its police headquarters building.

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