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Masonry training institute may move

November 14, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The president of a masonry training center at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base said Thursday the institute will begin looking for another site, after U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett failed to support a federal proposal that would have sped up a land transfer and allowed the center to expand.

Joan B. Calambokidis, president of the International Masonry Institute (IMI), said in a written statement she also didn't think the PenMar Development Corp. showed much support for the rejected proposal.

Two PenMar officials said earlier this week that they didn't think the proposal's rejection would disrupt IMI's plans to expand. The expansion would bring 200 new jobs to the base, IMI officials have said.

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IMI employs 33 people at the former base and is PenMar's largest tenant. It has leased the property since the late 1990s.

PenMar was created by the state in 1997 to redevelop the former base, which the Army shut down in 1998. The base's closing resulted in the loss of about 2,000 jobs.

"We did not see the (proposal) as solving all of our problems in trying to develop the Fort Ritchie site, but the fact that PenMar and the local leadership could not rally behind this very modest proposal tells us that we should begin exploring alternative sites," Calambokidis said in the statement.

"Am I concerned? Of course," PenMar Executive Director Richard Rook said. "I'm sure that they're very disappointed."

U.S. Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara D. Mikulski, both D-Md., proposed the bill that would convey about 30 acres to PenMar.

The plan was that PenMar then would sell the land to IMI, which would expand its National Training Center at the former base.

Bartlett spokeswoman Sallie Taylor said in a phone interview Wednesday that Bartlett, R-Md., and members of a congressional committee on which he sits didn't have enough information to support the land conveyance, which resulted in it being removed from the 2004 National Defense Authorization Bill.

Taylor said IMI never gave Bartlett details on how many jobs would be created through the expansion.

"How many total jobs are we talking about?" Taylor said. "I guess it wasn't received, and that was that."

IMI officials have said publicly several times that the expansion would create 200 jobs.

Bartlett has said he didn't think IMI would make an ideal anchor for the redevelopment of the fort property. He has said he thought security-related agencies would be best suited for the former base.

Calambokidis said IMI appreciated the efforts of Sarbanes and Mikulski to move the proposal forward.

"We are greatly disappointed by Congressman Bartlett's apparent lack of support in trying to bring this project to a successful conclusion and provide the jobs that this community needs so badly," Calambokidis said in a written statement.

PenMar officials have said that they think IMI will have the opportunity to expand when the Army conveys the entire base to PenMar.

Conveyance of all base property from the Army to the PenMar Development Corp. is on hold because of a February-issued court injunction blocking the action. A court decision ruled PenMar violated legal requirements because an advertisement announcing the property's availability was faulty.

Rook said he thinks the injunction will be lifted in March. If that happens, he said IMI would be able to start construction in the spring.

"We're hoping that they'll continue to show patience," Rook said. "They're going to have a great training center here when the dust finally settles."

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