At the official opening of the Maryland Public Safety Education and Training Center in Sykesville yesterday, officials punctuated their remarks with gratitude, praise and congratulations and made only scant reference to the 20 years of budget crises, political squabbles and construction delays that nearly sidetracked the $60 million project.
This was a day to celebrate those who kept the center on course, said Mary Ann Saar, secretary of the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.
"This is the cornerstone of public safety," she said. "The best-trained professionals in the state must come from here. Congratulations to all those who fought for years to keep this on track."
A crowd of about 500 filled the sun-drenched hall for the ceremony that began with patriotic anthems and ended with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. raising the American flag at the entrance to the center.
"Everybody here has a role to play in this day," Ehrlich said. "After 20 years, it's about time."
Law enforcement officials identified a need for a comprehensive training center in 1984. So in 1987, the state began placing $5 assessments on District Court cases, mainly on traffic tickets. This became the source of construction money for the project, but the state budget crisis in the early 1990s put it on hold.
Eventually, the drivers' training course and shooting range were built on the former Springfield State Hospital grounds, with plans to construct the academic center as soon as funding became available. But then-Gov. Parris N. Glendening scrapped the academic core in 1999, saying the project conflicted with his Smart Growth policy to control suburban sprawl. He began looking elsewhere for a site for the center.
The town of Sykesville had already annexed a sizable area of the hospital grounds, known as the Warfield Complex. Town officials persuaded Glendening to use Warfield's two largest buildings for the core of the academic center. The state broke ground on the $44.2 million center about two years ago.
Ehrlich yesterday dedicated the 125,000-square-foot academic center, which blends history and technology. Law enforcement officers from across the state - as many as 550 a day - will train in various aspects of police work, and study the latest developments in forensic science, bioterrorism and crime prevention.
"People who protect us deserve the best," Ehrlich said. "This facility reflects as good as it gets." The officers who train here "play a critical role in protecting us," he said. "We owe them the best support available."
The state police already has a class of cadets at the center and plans to run quarterly classes to increase the number of troopers throughout Maryland, said Col. Thomas E. "Tim" Hutchins, state superintendent of police.
"Our training is looking in terms of generations," Hutchins said. "We have to be better than we ever were to confront the dangers we face today."
The new center houses classrooms, labs, a library, television and recording studios, and dorms in renovated patient wards that were formerly part of Springfield Hospital. Restoration of the hospital's vacant buildings reflects "the policy of this administration: reuse of surplus buildings," Ehrlich said.
The 108-year-old facility, now known as Springfield Hospital Center, cared for as many as 2,000 mentally ill patients at its peak and serves about 300 patients today. Through partnerships with state agencies, Carroll County and the town of Sykesville, Springfield is finding uses for its vacant buildings.
County and town officials said the training center can be the springboard to more redevelopment on the hospital grounds, where several aging buildings are no longer used. Sykesville plans to convert about a dozen of those buildings in the Warfield Complex into a business and technology park.
"This training center is the centerpiece to the whole complex," said county Commissioner Dean L. Minnich. "Nothing but good can follow it. It will help Warfield and get it established as the new idea in industrial complexes in Maryland. We have our foot in the door and a real investment in our future."
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said the training center gives everyone the opportunity to see Carroll as a progressive county. The county and town will benefit from the increased police presence as well as the construction of the training center, particularly the infrastructure, she said.
"Warfield would not happen without this project," said Del. Susan W. Krebs, who represents South Carroll. "The infrastructure has allowed Warfield development to continue. This is exactly what the governor is trying to do with excess property. We have nearly 1,000 acres here, empty for decades. We should put it back to use."
The 23 acres of manicured grounds along Route 32 and the renovated buildings at the training center are "an inspiration to those who come here to learn," Saar said.
Patrick Bradley, executive director of the center, said the facility will help the 39,000 certified law enforcement and correctional officers in Maryland do their jobs better.
"They are willing to answer the call, and we will assist them to do that better," he said.