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Roundhouse effort may be derailed

July 14, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

Although an official decision hasn't been made, comments from Hagerstown elected officials Tuesday evening indicate that an effort to save the roundhouse complex may be derailed.

"I don't want to be the one to say it, but we know what the answer will be," Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said during a work session of the mayor and City Council.

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Bruchey said he doesn't want to be driving with his grandson down South Burhans Boulevard 30 years from now, and have to point out the spot where the roundhouse used to be.

Nor would he want to point the site out as a multimillion-dollar debacle made by the city, Bruchey said.

"Is it important to save our heritage? Yes, of course, but at what price?" Bruchey said.

Last Friday CSX Real Property President Stephen Beck repeated that the railroad wants to be reimbursed for the $500,000 it will cost to clean up the site, and wants a government agency to assume legal responsibility for any environmental problems that might crop up on the property in the future.

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Beck gave local officials until the end of the month before moving forward with demolition plans. CSX originally had set July 3 as the deadline for meeting the terms, and that deadline was extended to July 10.

"There's no way in the world that anybody in their right mind can accept the proposal that Beck made the other day. You might as well walk around with two pistols pointed in your eardrums," said Councilman William M. Breichner.

Beck, reached by telephone, would not comment on Tuesday night.

After the meeting, Breichner said he believes nothing can be done to save the roundhouse unless CSX officials are bluffing about plans to raze the complex.

Breichner said it was as if the city were playing a game of chicken with CSX, waiting to see who would blink first.

Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said he would like CSX to give the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum Inc. a long-term lease for the property so supporters would have time to raise the funds needed to turn it into a tourism attraction.

Then there is the issue of replacing a bridge over an active railroad crossing that cannot support fire trucks, Bruchey said. Replacing the bridge on the access road off West Antietam Street could cost $1 million to $1.5 million, he said.

Despite Tuesday's pessimistic attitude, Bruchey said city officials were waiting for environmental reports on the 45-acre roundhouse site before making a final decision.

The decision will be made on July 28 when city officials meet with the Washington County Commissioners, he said.

William Knode, the museum's treasurer, said museum officials will continue searching for an alternative solution until the end of the month.

After analyzing visitor statistics for the roundhouse in Baltimore, Councilman J. Wallace McClure said even if museum officials succeed in opening a tourist attraction on the roundhouse property, they'd be lucky to get 30 visitors a day.

Knode said Hagerstown's roundhouse complex would be unlike Baltimore's, which offers static displays. The Hagerstown roundhouse would attract railroad buffs as well as the average person who wants to be entertained, he said.

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