- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

BALTIMORE (AP) — Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key observed the battered flag that moved him to write what became the national anthem, will get a new visitor center in time for the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

The structure will be built primarily with $11 million in federal funds secured by Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, Maryland Democrat, and Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat whose 3rd Congressional District includes the fort.

State and local officials will need to contribute 20 percent in matching funds for the project to be completed, Mr. Sarbanes said last week.

“This is going to be a wonderful enhancement of Fort McHenry,” Mr. Sarbanes said. “We think it’s going to be a grand climax to the bicentennial.”

The current visitor center was built in 1964 and was designed to accommodate 250,000 visitors a year. The fort had 620,000 visitors last year, and that number is expected to rise to more than 750,000 by 2010.

The building has numerous shortcomings besides its size, including its location, which obstructs the view of the fort.

It doesn’t meet the state fire code and doesn’t comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, among other design and structural deficiencies, Mr. Cardin said.

The effort to secure funding for a replacement took 15 years, said Alan Walden, chairman of the Friends of Fort McHenry.

“It’s not easy to get new visitor centers at our national parks,” said Mr. Cardin, who is running to replace the retiring Mr. Sarbanes. “It has not been a priority because of budget issues.”

The new visitor center will be farther away from the fort, and the current one will be torn down, removing a blot from the space within the fort’s 1814 boundaries.

The highlight of the current visitor center is an auditorium where groups can watch a film about the fort, then watch as the curtains open to reveal the fort itself, with a huge American flag flying proudly above it.

The new visitor center will seek to enhance that experience and open it to everyone.

“We probably are turning away maybe a third of the school groups that want to come and see the movie,” said Gay Vietzke, superintendent of the fort. “We will be able to accommodate all of those children and more, we hope.”

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