- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 29, 2004

CROWNSVILLE, Md. — Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens has no plans for the nearly century-old Crownsville Hospital Center being vacated by the state this week.

“I am not sure if it is really a gift horse at this point,” she said of the hospital in the middle of a small, rural area zoned only for residential and agriculture use. “I look at it and see problems.”

Maryland officials this week shuttered the largely dilapidated facility, which the General Assembly chartered in 1910 as the Hospital for the Negro Insane. The name was changed in 1912, and the hospital was integrated in 1962.

The 1,200-acre campus has 52 buildings that must be treated for asbestos or other problems before Anne Arundel County can develop the property. Mrs. Owens said the property is undergoing an environmental assessment that will conclude at the end of the summer. She estimated cleanup costs at more than $90 million.

However, the problems and recovery costs have not kept veterans homes, a senior retirement group and the U.S. Department of Defense from making inquiries.

“Some people say to turn it into a park,” Mrs. Owens said. “It is a gamut of things right now.”

State Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini has said about 500 acres — including a large track of land containing about 1,800 graves for predominately black-race former patients — will be historically preserved.

He also said the closing of the hospital, which once housed 1,300 patients annually with a ratio of one doctor to 225 adults and children, is closing to save taxpayers $12 million a year.

The eight adolescent patients still at the hospital are being transferred today to the state’s two remaining treatment facilities — Spring Grove Hospital Center in Baltimore County and Springfield Hospital Center in Carroll County.

Maryland officials say closing Crownsville also will create a more efficient system enabling the state to direct $5 million into community-based programs to the mentally ill.

The state also has set aside an additional $1 million to maintain the campus for a year until the state and county decide what to do with the land.

Mr. Sabatini said the remaining nonprofit organizations renting space on the hospital grounds will be allowed to stay until a decision has been reached.

“I know there is great fear of residential development or commercial environment,” Mrs. Owens acknowledged.

Jo Anne Schiller, an employee for 21 years at the hospital who lives about a mile away, said she was “shocked” that the frequent rumors about the closing are finally coming true.

“The worst was seeing the patients leave,” said Mrs. Schiller, an administrative assistant to the clinical director. “I felt sad. … I cried.”

DennisDobson, the hospital’s human-resources director for 31 years who helped Mrs. Schiller find a similar job at Spring Grove Hospital Center and other Crownsville employees find work, said at first, he was “very concerned.”

“I have six people slated for layoffs … so if we don’t find them a job by [today] that will be it,” said Mr. Dobson, 61, who also will have the same job at Spring Grove Hospital Center. “That has been the real success story.”

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