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Memo warned of range design; State agency was told of possible danger from errant shots; Police facility to be fixed

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Maryland's Department of General Services was warned in November that errant shots from a new police rifle range could hit a driver-training track nearby or buildings at Springfield State Hospital in Sykesville, according to a memorandum from the agency that oversees police and correctional officers' training.

As the state decides what to do, Maryland Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, a former Carroll County delegate who has championed building the $20 million law enforcement training center for more than a decade, said yesterday that he would spend whatever it takes to ensure safety there.

"This center is important for law enforcement training in our state, and I am willing to expend every cent it takes," said Dixon.

He and other state officals contacted yesterday said the range will not open until all safety problems about containment of rifle shots are solved.

Ray Franklin, project manager for the police training division of the Police and Correctional Training Commissions, said he sent a memorandum on Nov. 5, 1999, to officials of the state Department of General Services, which is overseeing design and construction at the center.

The memo said that "design of the rifle and tower ranges does not physically preclude the possibility of projectiles leaving the range." He also said that at least part of the delayed opening of the range could be attributed to slow work by the contractor, EnviroServe Inc. of Sykesville.

The Nov. 5 memorandum obtained by The Sun noted that Richard Whiting, the architect's range expert, had said as early as Oct. 5, 1999, that "only experienced shooters should shoot on this range."

Training commission officials also had rifle training experts from the U.S. Secret Service visit the Sykesville site on Nov. 2, 1999, to offer advice, according to the memo. Those experts said safety concerns "would not be eliminated with the proposed improvements by the architect."

Details of the proposed improvements were not available. A spokesman for the range's architectural firm, Whitman, Requardt and Associates of Baltimore, was unavailable yesterday.

Dixon said if there is a design error, the state "may take some action against the architect. This error will be corrected before it is in use. There will be no danger to any other areas, buildings or people."

Asked to respond to questions concerning apparent design flaws, the Department of General Services issued a statement yesterday from Jerry Krasnick, director of government affairs for the agency.

"The Department of General Services is continually striving for the highest quality of design and construction at the best cost to taxpayers within the state of Maryland," it said.

"There have been some delays associated with the firearms training facility, and we're in dispute with the contractor on the causes of the delays. The late acceptance of the facility is not attributed to the rifle range. DGS is working closely with range experts at the Department of Public Safety. The pistol range, now complete, has 100 percent containment.

"Until the rifle range is completely safe, it will not be open for use. Other portions of the project have been accepted for use.

"The final cost will be determined by what additional changes need to be made as well as the dispute resolution by the Maryland Board of Contract Appeals."

The total cost of the firearms range -- including four pistol ranges, a range with pop-up targets, the rifle range and an administration building -- is $4.6 million, including $394,861 for design.

"The bottom line is, the training commissions are not going to open the rifle range until it has 100 percent containment 100 percent of the time," said Leonard A. Sipes Jr., spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. "That's our promise to the citizens of Carroll County. Their safety won't be jeopardized. It's non-negotiable."

The rifle range, a 200-by-12-yard rectangle, was originally scheduled for completion by Aug. 12, along with the administration building and pistol and pop-up ranges.

Next to the firing line at the rifle range is a two-story tower, which would allow shooters to practice firing from an elevated position at nearby ground targets.

Referring to the tower, the Nov. 5 memo noted that the federal experts "felt safety bars on the tower would be shot [and bullets could ricochet], possibly causing serious injury to a student or instructor."

They also agreed, according to the memo, that "if a rifle is placed on the shelf at one of the shooting positions, the muzzle can be pointed directly at a building. Either one of these safety issues precludes effective use of the tower."

Franklin said yesterday that hospital buildings and the driver training track cannot be seen from the ground-level firing line by someone standing at the rifle range. Law enforcement officers who have visited the site disagreed, noting that those who shoot rifles often kneel or sit for increased stability and accuracy. They said the few overhead baffles designed to prevent bullets from leaving the range do not block a view of the hospital or driving range.

Regardless of the shooter's positioning, bullets could ricochet off targets and fly out of the range unless it is modified for 100 percent containment, law enforcement officers said.

Springfield Hospital's patients could be endangered, said a member of the Residents Rights Committee who asked for anonymity.

"Patients have free run of the grounds, and they can go anywhere they want to on hospital property," said the committee member. "We are concerned with their safety, especially for those who go to a favorite wooded area."

The firearms center is designed to serve more than 25,000 law enforcement officers across the state. Many smaller agencies have no pistol ranges, and larger agencies are often limited by the size of the ranges they use. Most wishing to practice rifle training must travel to military bases such as Fort Meade in Odenton.

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