Declaring that the need for penal facilities in Maryland is urgent because of overcrowding, Acting Gov. Blair Lee waived yesterday the requirement for competitive bidding for selection of an architect for a new prison.

Lee also said he is "convinced there will be lower capital costs" in building a new facility on the site of the Continental Can Co. property in East Baltimore than in renovating the old factory as originally planned.

He said a new 890-bed prison could be built at a cost of $22.6 million to $24 million and be completed within three years.

A feasibility study placed the cost of renovating the can factory at $24.4 million.

Legislation to acquire the site for a prison passed in the waning moments of the 1977 General Assembly, only after legislative leaders fought off a threatened filibuster by opponents of the plan.

Opponents contended that using the site for a prison not only would disrupt nearby residential neighborhoods, but its purchase by the state would produce a $1 million profit for itsowner, Morton Sarubin, a cousin of Irvin Kovens. Kovens is one of the men subsequently convicted along with Gov. Marvin Mandel in a political corruption scheme.

Lee said the state's General Services Department has assured him that within 30 days it can solicit proposals from at least five architects. Complying with the requirement for competitive bidding would result in "significant delays," Lee said.

The request to waive the requirement came in a letter to Lee on Sept. 29 from Richard C. Wertz, chairman of the inter-departmental committee to implement the state correctional system master plan. Lee had written to Wetz on Sept. 15 asking him to come up with a plan that would result in the construction of prison facilities "as rapidly as possible."

Lee estimated that a 640-bed medium security and 250-bed minimum security prison can be built within 30 months of the start of construction, or about three years from now.

The prison proposal was one of the most cherished projects in the final budget proposed by Mandel. It won legislative support not only from Mandel loyalists, but from delegates and senators who believed a new prison was necessary to relieve critical overcrowding in the state's penal system.

Lee, who was still lieutenant governor at the time, played an active role in persuading legislators to approve the project.

Opponents said use of the site would destroy two neighborhoods that adjoin the site, and a number of residents of those areas went to Annapolis to protest.

Sarubin bought the 25-acre site in August, 1976, for $1.9 million, and three months later entered into a contract with Mandel's office that would have guaranteed him a profit of between $1.1 million and $2.6 million.

As a compromise to win passage of the plan, an amendment limited to $2.9 million the price the state would pay Sarubin. The measure was approved by the State Senate just 30 seconds before the deadline for ending the session.