Westminster and state officials cut the ribbon on downtown sidewalk retrofit project
11/26/2013
Kevin Dayhoff - Soundtrack

Westminster city officials and representatives from four Maryland state government departments gathered together Tuesday morning in front of the Westminster Recreation and Parks Family Center on Longwell Avenue to celebrate, and cut the ribbon, on an unprecedented groundbreaking $318,000 partnership that resulted in the completion of 214 new or rebuilt ADA-compliant curb ramps in the downtown area.

“What a wonderful project this is and with so many partners, said Westminster mayor Kevin Utz in prepared remarks for the occasion, after he was introduced by Mark Vernarelli, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

“With these partners 4 curb ramps were reconstructed, 64 curb ramps were modified and 164 new curb ramps were installed…” Because of this partnership, “over 200 ADA Compliant curb ramps now exist in Downtown Westminster,” explained Utz.

Utz read-off a long list of state secretaries and dignitaries who traveled from state offices in Baltimore and Annapolis for the occasion; including MD Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services Secretary Gary Maynard, Deputy Secretary J. Michael Stouffer, Public Safety Works Coordinator John Rowley, Director of Corrections Felicia Hinton, and Facility Administrator Leonard Rice.

Also present were Department of Disabilities Secretary Catherine Raggio, Deputy Secretary George Failla, Jr., and Access Maryland Director Cari Watrous as well as MD Department of Housing & Community Development: Assistant Secretary Carol Gilbert, Director of Community Programs Cindy Stone, and Project Manager Dona Sorce.

Along with Tony Romano, a representative of Romano Concrete Construction and Ronnie Townes, 21, an inmate who helped build the curbs; MD Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation Coordinator, Career and Technology Programs Ken Weeden, Field Director of Correctional Education Jack Cunning, and David Bordley were there to cut the ribbon and discuss the unprecedented city, state and private partnership.

According to information provided by the department of public safety, DPSCS, the project was “Grant-funded thanks to work by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development … The curb project is the largest project of its kind ever done by inmates in the DPSCS Public Safety Works community project initiative. The inmates learned concrete skills from Romano Concrete, a longtime and valued partner with DPSCS.”

Westminster mayor Kevin Utz was joined by Westminster Common Council president Dr. Robert Wack, council member Tony Chiavacci, city administrator Marge Wolf, public works director Jeff Glass, police chief Jeff Spaulding, , Community Programs Specialist Sandy Anderson, city engineer Mike Matov, assistant street superintendent Wayne Reifsnider and recreation and parks director Abby Gruber.

Planning for the project began in earnest after a similar, but much smaller partnership was called to Glass' attention in the summer of 2012. “We submitted the grant application on August 27,” said Anderson. “The actual work on the sidewalks began last May.”

“I'm very pleased that what initially started as a conversation with Secretary Maynard and Secretary Skinner has become a model partnership between the City of Westminster and three state agencies – Disabilities, Public Safety and Corrections, and Housing and Community Development,” said MD Dept. of Disabilities Secretary Catherine Raggio. “As a result of this partnership, we now have sidewalks that are safer and more accessible for individuals with disabilities, seniors and others.”

“DPSCS worked with the MD Dept. of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation to secure the partnership with Romano Concrete---with whom DPSCS inmates previously worked on the Eastern Shore at Cambridge in a similar but smaller project,” according to information provided by DPSCS. “This project is the first to give inmates DLLR on-the-job certifications.”

“It's been a great project… It's made a big difference for (getting around) downtown,” said Glass. Wolf and Utz agreed. “Everybody was a winner,” said Wolf.

Maynard called the inmate restorative justice initiative, “groundbreaking.” “This is our largest community curb project yet,” said the DPSCS secretary. “Our inmates have built or rebuilt more than 200 curbs, getting valuable skills training from Tony Romano and his concrete tradesmen, and helping this nice town become more accessible in the process.

“We call projects like these Public Safety Works ‘restorative justice' programs, because they allow inmates who want to pay society back with a really meaningful way to do that.

“On any given day, we have more than 350 inmates out across the state of Maryland doing meaningful projects. Right now, inmates are rebuilding a skipjack on the Eastern Shore, gleaning fresh produce for the Maryland Food Bank, planting millions of oyster spat, restoring battlefields, cemeteries and playgrounds, and helping cities and non-profits with all kinds of projects they couldn't do otherwise.

“We are very serious about this particular kind of project here in Westminster---where inmates get actual skills training from professional tradespeople. We're having inmates trained in hazardous materials abatement and they're taking down the old House of Correction prison in Jessup, a deconstruction that's saving taxpayers at least five million dollars compared to the cost of demolition. It's the only project of its kind in the country.

“These skills should serve the inmates well and give them a leg up on jobs when they get out and go home. I would love to talk to you today about how Public Safety Works might be able to help your agency or non-profit.

Maynard also elaborated upon how the partnership with the city gave the prison inmates an opportunity to learn job skills. “We may be in charge of keeping people locked up,” continued the secretary, “but what we really want is to set people free; to free them from addictions and anger issues, give them education and job skill training, and turn them into productive taxpaying citizens. After all, almost all inmates will one day be getting out.”

“We are very serious about this particular kind of project here in Westminster---where inmates get actual skills training from professional tradespeople,” remarked Maynard.

“This project, however, is about so much more than curbs and concrete,” said Utz in agreement. “With this project, the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) provided training for the inmates. With this project the state corrections department has provided construction experience and positive community participation for the inmates. With this project the inmates have received certification from the DLLR for on the job training. With this project the inmates participated in a major community project.

“Maynard was all smiles as he thanked the city and invited city officials to talk about more opportunities for partnerships. “Thank you again for this wonderful collaborative effort, and thank you, Mayor Utz, for allowing the Dept. of Public Safety and Correctional Services to perform this important work in Westminster.”

Utz added, “At this time I'd like to personally thank the inmates for their hard work. Their work was crucial to the success of this project. Concrete lasts a long time. We hope that the experience gained from this project will last even longer. Thank you.”