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City plans to pull the plug on armory

September 03, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Hagerstown officials are expected to cut off power today to the former National Guard Armory, leaving homeless two nonprofit youth groups that have not paid utility bills since May, officials said.

The Rev. Philip Hundley, leader of one of the groups, said Tuesday that he was being discriminated against by area power brokers.

"I do believe this is a case of discrimination and so therefore I'm going to pull out all stops, whatever is necessary to do, because there are those who know that this is something that is being done by the power brokers of this community," said Hundley, president of 21st Century Teens.

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Hundley holds Christian education classes at the armory twice a week for about 50 adults and children.

Hundley said he has contacted the office of U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., and would call Gov. Parris Glendening, other elected officials and contacts outside Washington County.

Hundley said the city planned to shut off electricity and water at the 328 N. Potomac St. armory so the Hagerstown Soccer Club could return to the building.

Gerald Spessard, a spokesman for the soccer club, said club officials were making no power play to return to the armory although they have no place to practice during the coming winter.

"I'm tired of him always saying he's being discriminated against. That's his cop-out all the time," said Spessard.

The soccer club left the building at the end of March when Hagerstown Armory Youth Consortium Inc. board members voted to dissolve an organization of nonprofit groups because they could not get needed repairs made as quickly as city officials wanted.

But Hundley did not leave, Spessard said. "He's been a so-called `squatter' there," he said.

Hundley said it is hard for people who have not been victims of discrimination to detect it.

He said the lynchings that happened physically in the past are now "done socially and economically."

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman denied that city officials were discriminating against Hundley.

"There's no power play. The city has no jurisdiction over that building whatsoever," Bruchey said.

The state owns the armory and the city acted as a go-between on a lease between the state and the YMCA that expired in 1994, he said.

The city is involved because the city hasn't been paid for the armory's utility bills, Zimmerman said.

Outstanding utility bills for the armory include $3,202 for water use from early March to early June and $310 for electricity from May 6 to Aug. 5, said Austin Abraham, the city's project coordinator. Another set of water and electricity bills will be sent out this month, he said.

Hundley said he has the money to pay the overdue bills, but hasn't paid them because he thinks Has Beens Boxing, the other group that uses the building, should share the expenses.

Abraham said power was to have been cut off two weeks ago, but arrangements were to be made to pay the overdue bills. When that didn't happen, the state authorized the city to turn off the power and water, he said.

Once the power is cut, the building cannot be occupied, said City Building Inspector Mike Heyser.

Chuck Fawley, with the Maryland Department of General Services, said the armory has no official tenants.

"We're not in a lease with anybody there," Fawley said.

Fawley said he knew the youth groups were in the building, but didn't evict them earlier this year at the request of two former elected city officials. He would not name the former officials.

The other group that will be out of home today is Has Beens Boxing, which has been using the back of the armory.

Richard Hess, Has Beens Boxing president, said he was unaware the utilities were to be cut off.

Hess said his boxing group barely uses the water or lights.

Hundley said his group has spent about $147,000 to fix up the building and will need to raise about $296,000 more for alarm and electrical systems, plumbing and heating repairs and handicap-accessibility.

Zimmerman said Hundley has some good ideas for use of the armory building, but there are significant life-threatening safety code violations that must be fixed.

The past City Council had said it was willing to act as a go-between on the lease between the state and Hundley once the code violations were addressed, Zimmerman said. City officials still haven't received a schedule from the state concerning who will fix the violations and how, he said.

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