Nov. 26--After sitting empty for eight months, a $1.2 million renovation is scheduled to begin next month that will transform a former Ellicott City auto dealership into a central garage for Howard County government.
Construction at the 6-acre site of the former O'Donnell Pontiac facility on Ridge Road will be in two phases. The first will include a vehicle repair and maintenance hub for county police, fire and general government vehicles, and for the school board.
"We pretty much have to redo the whole place," said County Executive James N. Robey.
The former showroom in the 40,500-square-foot main building will get a new mezzanine floor to add office space. The facility needs an overhaul, including air-handling systems for heating and cooling, lights, bathrooms, mechanical lifts for vehicles, locker rooms, storage rooms, new fiber optic and electrical wiring, radio maintenance shops and a new fuel island.
Phase two will include a large addition for repairs on big fire engines and could cost another $1 million, though the exact costs haven't been determined, officials said. The first phase should be finished by June, and the entire project should be complete by early 2008, said Michael Giovanniello, chief of the Bureau of Facilities.
In addition, the side facing U.S. 40 will get new landscaping and a water drainage system to prevent pollution from runoff.
The school board will use the site for groundskeeping equipment rather than housing it in older buildings around the county, but the board will not have to directly pay any renovation or leasing costs.
"We're not paying for it, so it would be a little ungracious if we were upset about [the delay]," said Ken Roey, executive director of facilities planning and management.
James M. Irvin, the public works director, and Robey said it is just simpler for the county to foot the bills, rather than assign costs to the board, which would then likely request the money from the county anyway.
"No matter how it shakes out, the school system gets a good deal," Robey said. "It still comes out of the taxpayers."
The council on March 6 approved a 10-year lease, with four additional five-year renewal options on the facility, but the site has remained empty. The $31,700-a-month lease payments began in July, but the price rises to $37,000 a month through 2012, starting in July.
County public works officials said they needed time to plan and engineer the required renovations, particularly because it was stripped of all the vehicle-repair equipment and cleaned to prepare it for sale or lease before the county contracted to obtain it.
"We started the design in June, and we were hoping we'd start construction in October. We're about two months behind," said Giovanniello.
In addition, county officials said they wanted to fence the property for security before storing vehicles there. A $48,000 black metal fence is in place, though gates are yet to be installed.
"We wanted to be good neighbors," Robey said, explaining why cheaper chain link was rejected. "We wanted to put something more decorative up there."
The project will serve the county in two ways, officials say.
First, it will provide a central location near the Ellicott City government campus for a much-needed facility, replacing plans to spend up to $11 million to buy land and build a repair complex off Route 100 at Old Montgomery Road.
Second, it nipped a community controversy in the bud because residents of that area were not thrilled about having a county garage in their neighborhood.
The capital budget approved last spring included $1.8 million for planning the facility, and Irvin said the county had more money put aside for general renovations.
County Councilman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat who pushed the county to look for a new site after residents of the Brightfield Farms Homeowners Association opposed the Route 100 location, said he would like to see the renovations move more quickly, too.
"Sometimes it takes time to get things going," he said.
County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, a western county Republican, said the cost of the lease bothered him at the time of the vote, but "the location was the important part for me." In years to come, he said, taking over the dealership site instead of building a more expensive facility likely will be seen as a good move.
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