Nine hundred Prince George's County employees are moving into the new $10.6 million County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro this month and cries of relief, and in some cases, resignation are being heard from employees all over the country.
The building, known affectionately as the CAB by county planners and potential inhabitants, is expected to have 80 per cent occupancy by the end of March. A dedication ceremony, with an all day arts and crafts and music festival, is planned for June 4.
The majority of complaints workers have about the move concerned increased driving time, the lack of parking and the low number of facilities in Upper Marlboro to eat, shop or seek professional services. The town has only three restaurants, no major drug or food chains and moves at a decidely slow Southern pace.
The County Council, County Executive Offices, the planning division of Maryland National Capital Parks and Planning, the department of public works and transportation, personnel and various other health, financial and protective agencies of the county will be housed in the new building. Some of these agencies are currently located in the courthouse, others in Riverdale, Forestville, Hampton Mall, Hyattsville and Cheverly. The Circuit Court and other court-related offices will absorb the vacated space in the courthouse.
For some employees, like those in the consumer protection agency, the move will mean a brighter, less crowded work space. For others used to the work atmosphere of wooded parkland and nature trails, the move from park and planning offices in Riverdale just means more travel time to work and general inconvenience.
Mike Mahafee, a senior urban designer at park and planning, now carpools 30 miles to work from Germantown. The move will add 15 to 20 miles, one-way, to his ride in the morning.
"I was very angry with the move at first. It seems there is no rationale for it. All the planning showed the new building should be located in a centralized place in the county. But because Upper Marlboro is already there and as it serves as the county seat, it won out.
"Now the impact of it to me has gone from anger to resignation. You can't do anything with it so you live with it as best you can."
The CAB, which faces School House Pond, has been referred to by local employees as everything from a "mini-Kennedy Center" to "a big, white elephant."
The six levels, including a 250-seat cafeteria, have been designed in an open space concept with a partition system at eye-level to create mini-offices. Some private offices for attorneys, councilmen and others exist, but the overall plan allows those workers who will be at their desks all day more open space and window usage then the professionals who move about during the day.
The partition system also has the most flexibility because there is now no money for new furniture for the building, said Phillips M. Schwartz, property manager of the department of public works and transportation. "In five years most of the furniture could be replaced by hanging units on the partitions. It's going to be a real hodgepodge when all the old stuff arrives here."
The new council meeting room, with its curved wooden dais and somber colors, is straight out of "Advise and Consent" and as one visitor cracked, "just right for council demagoguery." There is even a "secret stairway" from council offices on the second floor to the council room.
The best view in the place, overlooking the School House Pond, is from the county executive's offices on the top floor. Sliding glass doors, a large balcony and complete kitchen facilities to service conferences lend the area a penthouse air. The county executive has received the space he now has in the courtroom.
"I don't want to move to Marlboro," said Bobbie Carter, a legal secretary at park and planning. "I live one and a half miles from here and now we're moving 20 miles away. It will make a longer work day for me and there is a problem with parking. There's also no place to go out and eat lunch, and no windows in the office."
There are advantages to the move, she adds, "I'll be closer to the courthouse, and can record deeds and do research on land records easier."
Up the road, at the office of program planning and economic development, people are happier about the move to Marlboro.
"This move will bring us in closer to the county officials. Now when we appear before the council, we have to hustle down to Upper Marlboro," said Ray Jeffrey, an environmental planner.
Ed Piesen, head of the environmental planning department, added. "We are so isolated from the key people in government that sometimes we are unaware of policy considerations because we get it second hand. We need to know first hand and who said it. With the move the delivery of services should be improved with closer contact."
Parking for employees at the CAB will be a problem, said Samuel Wynkoop, deputy chief administrative officer. A new parking garage adjacent to the building will hold 850 cars but space allotments for county cars, visitors and the press will limit parking for county employees.
The county now rents space at the Marlboro Race Track for extra cars and a regular shuttle service from the area to the CAB is planned.
But as Bobbie Carter said, "Imagine having to go to the dentist or doctor during your lunch hour. You'd have to wait for the shuttle to get to your car."
Eventually the limited parking situation may be resolved as more employees car pool to work. The seven car pools now coming into park and planning will increase to over 20 as a direct result of the move to Upper Marlboro.
Approximately 480 more people will be coming into Marlboro each day after the move is completed. County officials are aware of the impact all those cars will have on the normally sleepy town.
Phillips Schwartz said the county is considering staggering the work hours of people in the building. "We won't be able to handle it if they all come at once. We've considered flexitime, but that may further compound the problem. We wouldn't have any control over their hours. What if 30 per cent of them come to work at 8:30 a.m. and foul the works?"
Flexitime or flexible-hours systems allows workers to come in later, leave work earlier, or take extended midday breaks for lunch or personal business during the day as long as they work the required eight-hour day.
Employees at park and planning currently work at 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. day, while other county employees work 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. shifts. Schwartz said employees should continue on their current schedules until "they can see where the parking problems are."
The offices of consumer protection, community affairs, finance and budget are currently located on the second floor or a small building on Main Street in Upper Marlboro. The old builidng and cramped quarters are just part of the 230,000 square feet the county leases for 1.5 million a year.
A vintage 1950 refrigerator, boxes and files line the hallways. Four people are crowded into the office of community affairs.
"This is just an old building," said Bill Bailey. "It's too warm in winter, too cold in summer, and the john-leaks water. We just got rid of a dead mouse smell that started after the exterminators left. We are looking forward to moving to the new building."
Don Weinberg, chief of personel for the county, tells people who come to his Hampton Mall offices to see him that it is "right between Dart Drug and the liquor store."
He is also looking forward to the move. "I'm going to be up there with Kelly (the County Executive). Now it takes 15 minutes, then I'll just be able to go up a flight of stairs.
"The new building will gives us more space for testing applicants and the nicer atmosphere may help them out." The personnel office will have less office space for its staff but meeting and training rooms with slide and video tape systems are planned. Staff members now have to go to the University of Maryland for meetings.
We'll also be closer to the county work force." Weinberg said. "So when we have workshops and training sessions during lunch time it will be easier for employees to get to them."
Joanne Ricco, a general clerk in personnel, is excited about the move. She lives in Crofton and will be 10 miles closer to her job. "I'm looking forward to meeting a lot of new people," she added. "We tend to be so isolated here."
The Upper Marlboro Special Treatment Plan calls for two more parking garages, a mall between the CAB and courthouse with small shops and restaurants, and for the School House Pond to be dredged and the area around it made into a nature center.
But all of that is a long way off. So employees and residents have to deal with the Upper Marlboro that exists today.
Freida Stakis, co-owner of the Old Town Inn, has no plans yet to expand her 88-seat establishment. "I'm hoping of course this will stimulate business.
"But you never know. After 5 p.m. they kind of roll up the streets around here."