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Residents protest ouster from old armory

September 05, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

About 20 people, including a dozen children, vented frustration Thursday and sang outside the former National Guard Armory in Hagerstown, which is now without electricity and water.

The Rev. Philip Hundley, pastor of An House of Prayer For All People and president of 21st Century Teens, said city officials reneged on an agreement to let his organization pay $1,500 of a delinquent water bill on Sept. 10 and work out a payment schedule.

The adults at Thursday's meeting endorsed his plan to wait one more day before seeking a lawyer's advice.

In an interview, City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman reiterated his explanation that city officials cut off power and water service to the building because the state, which owns the building, directed them to.

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"We're following our normal procedures here," he said. "We're not the tenant and we're not the owner."

Zimmerman said the state is responsible for the utilities at the building, located at 328 N. Potomac St.

He said neither Hundley nor his group are designated representatives of the state. He said the state told city officials to cut power last Friday and confirmed their intentions on Tuesday.

State officials have said Hundley does not have a lease for the building.

Zimmerman said city officials have met with Hundley for more than a year to try to broker a deal with the state to renovated the dilapidated building and bring it up to code.

But Hundley said Claudette Ferguson met with city officials last week and got an oral agreement to pay $1,500 of a $3,202 water bill on Sept. 10. Ferguson said she was shocked when she turned on the faucet on Wednesday and found it dry.

"All of a sudden - bang, the water's off," she said.

Austin Abraham, the city's project coordinator, said someone did discuss a payment schedule with city officials. But that was before state officials authorized the city to shut off the utilities. As the building owner, the state has that ultimate authority and has not designated anyone to act on its behalf, he said.

Many of the parents who stood on the building's steps Thursday night worried what their children will do without the facility. In addition to 21st Century Teens, a Christian educational program, Has Beens Boxing also used the building.

"They're putting these kids out on the street for the devil to get hold of them," said Debbie Bowie, of Frederick, Md.

Bowie led children in an impromptu rendition of "Shake the Devil Off" and group members held hands and prayed.

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