Maryland state officials, eager to find a way to end the state's liability for First Maryland Savings and Loan, said yesterday they are negotiating with a Baltimore thrift that could merge with the crippled Silver Spring association to enlarge its base in the state.

Melville S. Brown, director of the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund, which controls First Maryland, stressed that the talks with Yorkridge-Calvert Savings and Loan are preliminary.

He said Yorkridge-Calvert, which is federally insured and has 10 branches in the Baltimore area, is just "one of several" with which state officials are talking.

Brown said the negotiations with Yorkridge-Calvert last week centered on the difficult question of whether federal officials would accept a conversion of the mutually owned thrift to one that is owned by stockholders. In a mutual association every depositor is a shareholder.

A conversion to stock ownership, he said, is not unusual but is difficult because of complicated procedures for voting. The conversion usually takes several months and can often lead to discord among the depositors, he explained.

Thomas H. Maddux, state secretary for economic and community development, went to Atlanta last week to meet with federal officials about the change, said Brown..

Brown characterized the talks as "positive" and said they had been "very productive."

"It's very early in the negotiations," he said, but "we've got past the first hurdle."

Brown said that Yorkridge-Calvert has assets in the "$400 million to $450 million range."

Brown declined to identify the other institutions that might be interested in acquiring First Maryland, which has 35,000 depositor accounts.

Neither Maddux nor officials for Yorkridge-Calvert could be reached for comment yesterday.

The negotiations, which were first reported in the Baltimore Sun yesterday, began about three weeks after First Maryland was placed in state conservatorship when it failed to qualify for federal deposit insurance.

First Maryland is one of three Maryland thrifts still controlled by the state in the wake of the crisis that hit the privately insured associations in May. Deposits were frozen at the thrift by Gov. Harry Hughes in August, and it was put under state control on Nov. 20. The state then became responsible for the thrift's $22 million debt.

The state also controls Community Savings & Loan, a Bethesda thrift with a $100 million debt that is in conservatorship, and Old Court Savings and Loan of Baltimore, which is in receivership and has estimated debts of $175 million.

The state controls a former $150 million fund that could be used to help cover those debts.

Yorkridge-Calvert is not First Maryland's first suitor.

The New York banking giant Citicorp signed a letter of intent in September to buy First Maryland, but the deal fell through in mid-October after Citicorp studied First Maryland's financial records.

Lou Panos, press secretary to Hughes, said that because Yorkridge-Calvert is "primarily in the Baltimore market now, this possible merger would give them access to the Washington metropolitan area."

Brown said that Yorkridge-Calvert could be a good match for First Maryland because the two have been heavily involved in the same types of loans.

The deal is interesting to Yorkridge-Calvert "in the respect that assets of First Maryland are ones that they know and understand," he said.