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 driving 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.