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Leopold supports study

The Baltimore Sun

County Executive John R. Leopold is expected to propose a $500,000 study tomorrow that would examine consolidating government services now spread across valuable real estate in several major complexes and scattered offices.

Leopold said the "long-overdue" study, aimed at eliminating inefficiencies, would likely stop short of complete centralization.

"I think the investment made for such a study will reap dividends in the future," he said. "It may in the long run be more fiscally responsible to consolidate some buildings or build new ones than to continue spending annually on renovations."

Options might include selling surplus land, better use of county buildings that are under capacity, acquiring buildings or building new work sites. Satellite offices for agencies like the Department of Public Works and county police might still be needed.

"It's asking a consultant to think outside the box and look at other opportunities," said assistant budget officer Kurt Svendsen. "You need to take that forward-looking view. Is this really the mode of service delivery we're going to be following in the future?"

Finding locations big enough to bring together most of the county's 4,200 employees and the 600-plus working in school system administration could prove difficult.

According to an inventory completed last year, the average age of county buildings is 35 years.

Excluding all school buildings, there are more than 3.2 million square feet, spread among the Arundel Center on Calvert Street in Annapolis, the Heritage Complex on Riva Road, an emergency services complex in Millersville, recreation and health facilities on Harry S. Truman Parkway, and other buildings. The school system has four major administrative buildings, including sites in Annapolis and Gambrills.

The idea of consolidation dates to the days of the first county executive, Joseph W. Alton Jr., said John Pantelides, head of the nonprofit Anne Arundel County Alliance for Fair Land Use. Forty years ago, Alton's administration discussed moving most county offices to Harry Truman Parkway, where the Health Department is today.

Resistance to moving most county employees out of Annapolis stymied those efforts. Pantelides argues that even if the Arundel Center were to remain open, selling potentially lucrative properties like the Heritage Complex and school board headquarters on Riva Road could create funds for better facilities and improved government programming.

In his campaign for county executive last year, Greg Nourse, assistant superintendent for county schools, suggested moving to the grounds of the former Crownsville Hospital Center.

"At the time, with the closing of the Crownsville hospital, I thought that would be an ideal place to consolidate government services, [allowing the county] to sell off current buildings that are in prime retail areas," he said. "You have prime properties that, at the time, would have more than paid for any new buildings needed."

Pantelides agreed and said that with the right incentives, developers could create a Crownsville campus that meets the county government's needs for office and storage space, and include affordable work force housing nearby. He also envisions nearby office complexes to accommodate a high-tech corridor or businesses that regularly work with county agencies.

"If the county could find the right person to help develop the property, that's something I'd be very interested to see happen," he said.

Leopold said he had "no preconceived notions" or specific sites in mind.

Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Piney Orchard Democrat whose district includes Crownsville, said he supports examining the county's land and office use - but not without details. The bill to be presented to the County Council includes just one paragraph mentioning space planning and doesn't clearly indicate the scope of work to be done.

Benoit said he would likely back funding for a study after he saw proposals from the private sector describing their efforts, exact costs and "if they're going to look at Crownsville or if they're going to look at six other sites."

"Certainly we want to get the most bang for our buck when it comes to our real estate," Benoit said. "A half-million for a study that isn't clearly defined just isn't a good idea."

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