At Maryland's $60 million Public Safety Education and Training Center in Sykesville, moving vans have replaced bulldozers.
The facility has officially opened for law enforcement and correctional officers across the state.
After more than 16 years of planning, the 125,000-square- foot academic center - the third and final phase of the construction project - is done. Blending history and technology, the center houses classrooms, labs, a library, television and recording studios, and dorms in renovated patient wards that were formerly part of Springfield Hospital Center.
Hundreds of state administrators and police officials are settling into newly furnished offices. Police cadets have started preliminary training on cutting-edge technology and the state police's newest recruits will soon begin six months of study in state-of-the-art classrooms. The gym, fitness center and pool are only a contractor's punch list away from readiness.
"We have commenced official operations," said Raymond A. Franklin, assistant director of the state police and correctional training commissions. "People are moving in, and we are getting under way."
The center is not reserved for the state's 15,000 certified police officers and 12,000 correctional officers. Instructors from Carroll Community College, who will teach some law enforcement courses there during the day, will have use of the center's classrooms in the evenings.
Area students can skip the trip to Westminster and enroll in general education college courses as well as work-force training programs starting with the fall term.
"They are providing us staffing, and we are allowing them to offer evening courses," Franklin said.
Craig Clagett, the college's vice president of planning, marketing and assessment, called the arrangement a win-win situation for the college and the center.
"South Carroll is growing, and the college has a record enrollment and is pressed for space on the Westminster campus," Clagett said. "We can do training for the center by day and use their vacant classrooms for night college. This will be a great service to the southern part of the county."
The center will enable the college to offer more training and enrichment courses, including real estate licensing, modern languages, construction and drawing.
The pairing is one of many that helped build the center and make it part of the community, Franklin said.
"This project works both aesthetically and functionally," Franklin said. "We like to think it will become a national model for law enforcement training. The construction has already been a model for working together with the county, the town and the hospital administration."
The hospital, which cared for as many as 2,000 mentally ill patients at its peak of operations, serves about 300 patients today. Through partnerships with other state agencies, Carroll County and the town of Sykesville, Springfield is finding uses for its vacant buildings.
During the first two phases of training center construction, the state built a firing range and drivers training course on property adjoining the hospital. The final phase, on 23 acres along Route 32 in Sykesville, began two years ago with the renovation of two of the hospital's largest vacant buildings.
Construction included a glass-front structure dubbed the Infill Building. Its brick walls match the two older buildings it connects. The building houses a spacious cafeteria and tiered classrooms that overlook formation and drill areas. The renovation work extended to two unused patient cottages, which added more dorm rooms and brought the number of beds to 160.
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. Officers will train in the latest aspects of forensic science, bioterrorism and crime prevention. The center will employ as many as 150 people.
The bulk of the construction money came from $5 fines assessed in District Court cases since 1987 - mainly on traffic tickets. A formal dedication will take place in September.
Franklin, whose new office is in a former hospital operating room, continues to plan. The spacious auditorium in another vacant hospital building that the town of Sykesville is renovating could become another joint project.
"This could be a facility that serves the arts, our graduations and community meetings," he said. "Rentals could make money to support its operations."
He added that he is writing a proposal that will bring the parties together.