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Pact will help preserve Fort Ritchie buildings

December 19, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

FORT RITCHIE - Federal and state officials signed an agreement Thursday that is designed save historic buildings at Fort Ritchie after the U.S. Army leaves next October.

The agreement protects buildings such as Lakeside Hall, with its towering stone fireplace and vaulted ceiling, the Castle and the "finger buildings," a string of small stone buildings connected by a common hallway, said Robert Sweeney, executive director of the PenMar Development Corp., the private-public agency that will lead efforts to redevelop the base when the Army leaves.

The agreement does not mean that the buildings can never be destroyed, Sweeney said.

Any of the buildings could be dismantled if a structural problem should arise, officials said. A building also could be torn down should there be an environmental contamination problem involving the structure, Sweeney said.

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Maryland State Historic Preservation Officer J. Rodney Little said he likes the plan.

"It's very well put together. You have to have some provision for change," Little said.

Construction started on the 638-acre base in 1926 when mess halls, bath houses, kitchens and administrative buildings were erected. Members of the Maryland National Guard, the first group to use the base, lived in tents during their first summer encampments.

The Army began using the fort as a military intelligence center in 1942.

Over the years, Fort Ritchie grew to be the county's largest employer with 2,500 jobs.

Now the fort property is to be transformed into a business park for high-technology companies and corporate training centers.

The first tenant was the International Masonry Institute, which offers professional masonry training and promotes the unionized masonry industry.

Ten instructors and staff have moved to the base, and about 200 more workers are expected to come to the base over the next five years, Sweeney said.

Officials said the International Masonry Institute's presence at Fort Richie is fitting considering the fort's large stone buildings.

Stone masons can help repair buildings and make other improvements as part of their training, said International Masonry Institute spokesman Butch Rovder.

About 40 stone masons went through the institute's training course this year, and some of them built a small stone building that will be used as a snack bar near one of the fort's lakes.

"Instead of building walls and tearing them down, they can get an actual project," Rovder said.

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