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FSU could leave Downtown

May 20, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Hagerstown City Council's decision to offer a free site for the University System of Maryland campus was sparked by word the Frostburg State University Center would pare back operations at its downtown location, the city's mayor said Thursday.

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Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and former Mayor Steven Sager said in separate phone interviews they were worried that not only would the city lose the possibility of having a University System campus revitalize downtown but the city would have another empty building downtown.

Sager did most of the work on developing the city's proposal.

If the campus is built as planned on a donated 20-acre site at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park, the Frostburg Center would move much of its operations there, said Sager.

Sager, a Frostburg Center advisory board member, said Frostburg President Catherine R. Gira said during an April 26 board meeting that would be the case.

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Gira confirmed Thursday that the college would move much of its downtown operation to the University System campus.

"It may be reconfigured but it's not a total pullout," Gira said. The college probably would continue to offer some classes at the downtown location, she said.

It would be "totally crazy" for Frostburg to stay downtown when it also would be a major draw at the System campus, she said.

The week after the April 26 meeting, Sager talked with Bruchey about the issue, he said.

Bruchey defeated Sager in the May 1997 election.

Sager is the Western Maryland community manager for the Department of Housing and Community Development, a job he said involves working with communities, groups and individuals on projects such as the campus offer.

Working with Maryland Office of Planning administrators over the last two weeks, Sager developed the proposal that was presented to the City Council during a closed-door meeting Tuesday.

Sager said he impressed on them that the current site would not meet the intent of the Smart Growth Areas Act.

The City Council agreed after Sager's presentation to offer the 60,000-square-foot Baldwin House Complex as a free campus site.

Since February, the County Commissioners and University System have planned to build a $10 million to $15 million one-building campus on a donated 20-acre site at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park.

Frostburg is aware of its importance as a downtown revitalization tool, Gira said. The college will work to get another educational institution to take its place, she said.

Whether the college leaves partially or entirely, the effect will be felt, Bruchey and Sager said.

"I think it would be a significant loss," Bruchey said.

Many downtowns thrive because of colleges and government offices, he said. The goal of the city's proposal is to retain one college while gaining the University System campus, he said.

James Shaw, center director, was quoted in a Jan. 21, 1999, newspaper story as saying there were no plans to move the center elsewhere.

Shaw was unavailable for comment Thursday.

The conference center at Frostburg would continue to be used by community groups, Gira said. The center, which cost more than $240,000 to convert for Frostburg's use, was dedicated in May 1998.

The city of Hagerstown paid about $125,000, or half of its cost.

The Hagerstown Center had an all-time high enrollment of 446 students for the fall semester. About 400 of those students were enrolled in Frostburg classes while the rest attended classes offered by three system schools.

The center was established in downtown Hagerstown in 1988.

Sager said he has been talking in recent weeks with the deputy director and director of the Maryland Office of Planning about the project and about whether it meets the intent of the Smart Growth law.

The Allegheny Power site meets the requirements of the 1997 Smart Growth Areas Act but it does not meet the full intent of a January 1998 executive order issued by Gov. Parris Glendening, Office of Planning Deputy Director Ron Young wrote in an April 30 memorandum.

The executive order says state agencies should "give priority to central business districts, downtown cores, empowerment zones and revitalization areas when funding infrastructure projects or locating new facilities."

"The Maryland Office of Planning strongly suggests that the University seriously explore sites in downtown Hagerstown," Young, a former mayor of Frederick, Md., wrote.

His opinion does not have any implications for state funding for the project, Young said Wednesday.

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