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Support fades for county's building buy

May 04, 1999

Wareham BuildingBy SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




A proposal for the Washington County Commissioners to spend up to $2 million in the next few years to buy and renovate a downtown Hagerstown building apparently lacks enough votes for approval.

Washington County Commissioners Paul L. Swartz and William J. Wivell said their opposition to the purchase of the 24,000-square-foot Wareham Building at 138 W. Washington St. increased after they toured it Tuesday afternoon.

"I wouldn't purchase this," Swartz said during the tour. "If anything, it cemented my opposition."

"I am not impressed," Wivell said.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said Tuesday he is going to abstain from any votes or discussions about the 1930s-era building due to a possible conflict of interest.

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He is a property/casualty insurance agent with J. Edward Cochran & Company, Inc. which is run by Ed Cochran, one of three partners of JRE Properties, which owns the building.

A vote to buy the building would require the support of three of the five commissioners.

Despite the lack of votes, Public Works Director Gary Rohrer will continue working on a spreadsheet showing costs and potential revenue if the county bought the building, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said Tuesday evening.

Wivell and Swartz said they consider Rohrer's $1.2 million estimate to renovate the entire building low. Rohrer stuck by that estimate but said the county wouldn't try to renovate the entire building in one year. When fully renovated, the building could be worth $3 million, Rohrer said.

The County Commissioners voted April 27 to hold a June 8 public hearing on a proposal to pay $635,000 for the building, which has four stories and a basement. There are only two buildings - one housing attorneys and the other the Home Federal Savings Bank - between Wareham and the County Administration Building. It is across the street from the Miller House.

The county can pay for the acquisition and renovation costs out of the Capital Improvement Program budget, Rohrer said.

As part of the purchase, the county also would obtain a 72-space, two-story parking deck behind the building, Rohrer said.

The building's benefits include its price and proximity to the County Administration Building, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

The purchase of the new building could also help solve some problems caused by the planned renovations of the Washington County District Court and the Washington County Circuit Court, Shoop said. Some county and state offices will need to find a new home, at least temporarily, during those renovations.

Under the purchase proposal, the county would first move some departments into the first floor. Rent from the existing tenants, who are mostly attorneys, would pay for operating costs.

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