Planned for more than 16 years and derailed by budget crises and politics, the state's $60 million Public Safety Education and Training Center is nearing completion and should be operational within two months.
"Moses comes to mind," said Patrick L. Bradley, acting director of the state's police and correctional training commissions. "It took from 1988 to today to get to the promised land."
That land is a 23-acre site along Route 32 in Sykesville, where a 125,000-square-foot complex that blends history and technology was created from vacated patient wards at the state's Springfield Hospital Center.
"We kept the existing design and worked for historic preservation," said Raymond A. Franklin, assistant director of the state's police and correctional training commissions. "We have done a good job protecting these buildings and adding the best available technology needed today. We have created training for virtually every public safety job in Maryland."
The academic center - the third and final phase of the construction project - houses classrooms, labs, a library, television and recording studios, and dorms. During the first two phases, the state built a firing range and a drivers' training course.
Law enforcement officers from across the state - as many as 550 a day - will train in various aspects of police work, some for six weeks and some for a few days. The center will employ as many as 150 people.
Starting in July, state police recruits will undergo a rigorous six-month course in academics, physical challenges and hands-on training that leads to a career with the agency. The state's 15,000 certified police officers and 12,000 correctional officers will train in the latest aspects of forensic science, bioterrorism and crime prevention.
"This is training and development to meet the changing environment," Bradley said. "The idea is: What is the threat on the horizon, and how do we address it? Our focus is to identify the emerging issues in public safety, come up with a comprehensive response mechanism and then roll out the curriculum."
Police and correctional divisions across the state can enroll in any of the curriculum and technology courses the center offers, and classes will be available online.
"The center will provide direct delivery, and there will be a ripple effect throughout the state," Bradley said. "This center is a law enforcement tool. It is where we will take people who want to be police officers and make them most effective."
The bulk of the construction money came from $5 fines assessed in District Court cases since 1987 - mainly on traffic tickets.
"If you got a speeding ticket, you helped pay for this," Franklin said. "District Court offenders paid the lion's share."
The center was planned for property on the grounds of the state hospital, "but it has been a long, hard struggle," said Richard N. Dixon, former state treasurer and five-term Carroll County delegate.
For a brief time during the previous governor's administration, the project was on shaky ground. In 1999, then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening said building on the Springfield grounds did not match his Smart Growth policy, which directed growth to existing communities. He began looking for another site.
Dixon and state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer, who both sat on the Board of Public Works with the governor, blocked any attempt to move the center from Sykesville.
The town also lobbied hard to keep the training center. Sykesville, which annexed almost 150 acres of the property - known as the Warfield Complex - five years ago, plans to develop the remaining Warfield buildings into a business and academic center.
"Glendening wanted to move the center to spite Carroll County," Dixon said. "In the end, he consented to build it about 100 yards from the original site and called it Smart Growth."
Construction on the academic section of the training center began in July 2002.
In addition to the renovation of several buildings, a glass-front structure, dubbed the Infill Building, was built to link the hospital's cavernous Hubner and T buildings. The new building, with brick walls to match the two older ones, houses a spacious cafeteria and tiered classrooms that overlook what will be formation and drill areas.
Construction also included the renovation of two unused patient cottages into dorm rooms, bringing the number of beds to 160.
Built in 1915, Hubner once housed about 300 patients, with staff, operating and treatment rooms, a nursing school and an administration that ran the state's largest hospital for the mentally ill.
The T building with its many floor-to-ceiling windows and sun porches was dedicated to tubercular patients. Both brick buildings boasted broad entrances decorated with white columns.
As the hospital downsized, Hubner became a museum, filled with obsolete equipment, and the T building was abandoned. The hospital still cares for about 350 patients in a separate area.
The hospital wards' stark white walls have been repainted in soft tans and pale yellows. Hubner's copper-colored cupola, visible from every corner of the campus, its spacious sun porches and nearly all of its windows have been restored. Much of the brick interior is exposed.
"You could never build these same buildings today," Dixon said.
From the core of the connected academic buildings, a short run on a jogging trail through several activity fields leads to a physical fitness center with a gymnasium, a training room and a pool deep enough to allow underwater rescue training. Although still under construction, the building should be ready in two months.
"We should be out of here in six weeks," job foreman Dean Cosner told Franklin last week. "The next time you come in here, they will be shooting baskets."
Room to grow
The center has room to grow, and plans call for a mock courtroom, police station and jail.
"We want to replicate reality so that the real thing is not the officer's first encounter with a situation," Bradley said. "We want officers to have a sense of being there before."
Bradley, Franklin and Dixon have worked for years to keep the center on track. Now that it is a reality, they can look forward to its contributions.
"This is good for the town, the hospital, the county and the state," Dixon said. "A century from now, this center will still be here, sitting atop a beautiful hill."