Study indicates new direction for Bainbridge
Historic designation may cause issues
— The collection of once-grand architectural structures at the Bainbridge site that made up the Tome School for Boys cannot be demolished and must be restored for any future development to take place, according to
a recently released study commissioned by the Bainbridge Development Corporation.
The 54-page strategic plan, prepared by Weston Solutions, of West Chester, Pa., sought to assess the best use or uses for the Tome School property and found that while the property faces significant hurdles, including environmental contamination, historical preservation restraints and a lack of infrastructure, the site is a market-viable project.
Chief among those obstacles, however, is a ruling from the Maryland Historic Trust that states the BDC cannot demolish the former school buildings.
“Any future must include all buildings on the campus being restored,” said Michael Pugh, BDC chair, adding those estimates are as high as $72 million. “The likelihood of restoration work at the Tome School is remote.”
The study itself was triggered by the September 2014 arson fire which destroyed what was left of Memorial Hall, the school’s signature building, Pugh said. But there is great deterioration taking place elsewhere as well, with the Historic Trust estimating that around 50 percent of the “character-defining features” of the buildings have been lost to date, according to the study.
Wayne Tome, mayor of Port Deposit, was disappointed that this degradation would be allowed to continue. The mayor said he has not been able to read the report thoroughly yet, but hopes there is a way to appeal the Historic Trust’s ruling.
“They want it all to be done or none of it,” he said of the officials with the Maryland Historic Trust. “We can’t do it incrementally.”
Built as the Tome School for Boys more than a century ago, it became U.S. Navy property in 1942, a year after the school closed. The grand marble and brass was painted battleship colors when it became Bainbridge Naval Training Center. The military base closed in March 1972. After a succession of Job Corps classes, the property was turned over to the state of Maryland in 2000.
At one time there were plans to convert the remaining buildings into a continuing care facility. However, before those plans could begin, a study found that contamination on the property — thought to have been remediated by the Navy — was still on the site. That brought all plans to a halt.
While he would not divulge identities of the companies, Pugh said the BDC and Cecil County officials have had enough of missed opportunities because of the Navy’s lack of activity.
“In the last 12 to 18 months, we had two major industrial prospects,” Pugh said.
Both were lost because of the contamination, but also because of the lack of infrastructure at the site. Two weeks ago, the county launched a plan to address the infrastructure issue, announcing a proposal to build a regional water and sewer system for Bainbridge, Port Deposit and neighboring subdivisions.
According to Tome, having the water and sewer in place will make Bainbridge “shovel ready” for developers.
“On behalf of the town of Port Deposit, we appreciate the county including that in their plans,” Tome said. “People are looking and ready to go and we’re not.”
The BDC, meanwhile, wants to offer a boiled down approach to the re- mediation of the former naval base. Pugh said this new plan suggests that the soil be studied once again, with the worst of it set aside. That leaves the remaining acreage for development — and it’s promising.
“We have to know precisely the more and less contaminated sites,” Pugh said.
A grid system will be used to identify areas where townhouses and condominiums could be built as well as the potential locations for warehouses, office complexes and other projects.
“We want to minimize disturbance of the worst sites,” Pugh said, adding that while the Navy will still be responsible, the cost would be substantially lower.
Once proposed for an amusement park, a NASCAR track and even a refugee camp, the beleaguered parcel will have a future, Pugh said.
“About a year from now, a plan will emerge, which will be close to a final development concept plan for Bainbridge,” he said. “We can find uses (and) help the western end of the county regain its footing.”
Following an arson fire in September 2014, a charred shell is all that remains of Memorial Hall, the Tome School for Boys’ signature building.
Flames engulf Memorial Hall on the Bainbridge property during a September 2014 arson fire.