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Roundhouse has its fans, detractors, too

January 17, 1999|By ANDREA ROWLAND

CSX Corp. mechanic Ted Depp, of Hagerstown, remembers a time when the Hagerstown roundhouse was more than a dilapidated structure frequented by vandals and the homeless.

"It used to be the men that worked back there in that roundhouse were the most important part of the railroad," said Depp, who said he's seen roundhouses razed in Pennsylvania and New York.

"But the railroad's changed over the years. Now it's all about the almighty dollar," he said.

As Depp spoke Saturday morning, demolition crews working in the vacant locomotive repair yard behind his shop continued to reduce a 42-acre chunk of Hagerstown history to rubble.

Crews from AWS Remediation Inc. in Pittsburgh kept working Saturday, after Gov. Parris N. Glendening rejected a final plan Friday to save the roundhouse.

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U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., has said roundhouse property owner CSX Corp. would have temporarily halted demolition if both House of Delegates Speaker Casper Taylor and Glendening had agreed to seek legislation exempting CSX from liability in future lawsuits stemming from possible underground contamination.

Several local residents, asked about the situation Saturday, had varying opinions.

"It's a shame about the roundhouse," said Jacob Gilmer, of Hagerstown. "The environmental thing is what's killing the whole deal."

Michael Harper, of Hagerstown, who said he has managed the Hagerstown Moped store across the street from the railroad yard for 15 years, said the deteriorated roundhouse poses problems more visible than the environmental concerns.

"You get a good thunderstorm and stuff just blows off the roof," he said. "It's just a shell now, anyway."

Janet Crenshaw, of Hagerstown, said, "Somebody should have done something about it a long time ago." Her husband, Willard, agreed. "It's just an eyesore now," he said.

Roundhouse supporters had hoped to restore the 1905 structure, and turn it into a tourist attraction.

"There should be a way to save a historic structure like this for the benefit of the community," said William Knode, treasurer of the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum.

Knode said roundhouse supporters raised some $400,000 "without really trying." It would cost an estimated $4.3 million to restore the complex off Burhans Boulevard, and an estimated $1.1 million a year to run.

Museum officials told the Hagerstown City Council in July that they would launch a national fund-raising campaign to cover these costs, and hoped to support the endeavor through museum ticket sales, food sales and railroad excursions.

"We've been so close so many times," Knode said. "It's always something, and we just can't get the whole act together," he said.

Museum officials had hoped for a reprieve from the governor, and Glendending's decision came as a great disappointment, Knode said.

"Our community needs to come together and appreciate the value of some of our historic things," he said, adding that museum officials are open to "any and all suggestions" regarding how to save the roundhouse.

Another city resident said the issue has gone on too long. "I think it's time they just tore it down," said Tyler Siebert, of Hagerstown.

Amy Squibb, who said she lives across the street from the railroad site, didn't give an opinion about the fate of the roundhouse. "I'm sick of the noise," was her comment.

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