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City has its own plans for campus

May 20, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

The Hagerstown City Council is offering Washington County a free site for the University System of Maryland, Hagerstown campus: The 60,000-square-foot Baldwin House Complex.

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

The capital planner for the University System advised the County Commissioners at a Tuesday meeting to consider buying an additional 20 acres at the site in a few years for future expansion. The site is about five miles southwest of downtown Hagerstown.

The Hagerstown City Council reached consensus at Tuesday's meeting, following a closed session, to offer the Baldwin House Complex as a campus site, Mayor Bob Bruchey said Wednesday.

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The city-owned complex at 32-46 W. Washington St. consists of the former Baldwin House - a five-story brick hotel built in 1881 - the former Routzahn's department store and the former Grand Piano warehouse.

The complex is on the same block and the same side of the street as Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center, which is at 20 Public Square.

The downtown site would save the county and state $2 million to $3.5 million in construction costs and help revitalize downtown, Bruchey said.

Councilman Al Boyer said that while that is true, he has some concerns about whether the downtown building would be large enough for the campus.

If the county and University System are concerned about the building's size, then perhaps the YMCA building also could be used when the organization moves to its new location on Eastern Boulevard, Bruchey said.

Bruchey said he informed the Maryland Office of Planning about the proposal in a phone conversation Wednesday.

Bruchey said he had not told the Washington County Commissioners about the idea. He had planned to give the county a written proposal today, he said.

Commissioners President Greg Snook said he wanted University System officials to advise the county on whether the city offer is better than the proposed site offered by Allegheny Power. He said the downtown site was not considered by a steering committee that endorsed Allegheny Power's offer over three other sites at a Feb. 1 meeting.

"There could be advantages to either site," Snook said. "A free site is a free site."

Commissioner Bill Wivell said he thinks the Allegheny Power site is the better offer because it has more room for expansion and would be a better draw for potential students in the four-state area.

Wivell said the fact he is employed by Allegheny Power does not affect his opinion.

Allegheny Power's offer still stands and it is up to the University System to decide if its location is inferior to the downtown site, said Guy Fletcher, Allegheny spokesman. The company won't comment on other offers, he said.

After the Allegheny site was selected, the county paid $25,000 for a study showing the need and preliminary plans for the campus. That "program plan" was used to get $150,000 in planning money from the Maryland General Assembly.

"We are still operating on the basis of the county's site selection and of the program plan which we submitted, which is specific to that site," said John Lippincott, system spokesman.

Bruchey said he has always felt the campus should go in downtown Hagerstown if possible.

He said he felt slighted that he was not invited to the earlier meetings of the steering committee that looked at four possible sites for the campus. He was only invited to the meeting at which the Allegheny Power site was chosen, he said.

Hagerstown's announcement comes a day after the County Commissioners were presented with a copy of an April 30 Maryland Office of Planning memorandum questioning the site's location.

"The Maryland Office of Planning strongly suggests that the University seriously explore sites in downtown Hagerstown," Ronald Young, office deputy director, said in the April 30 letter.

"Such a site would better facilitate the utilization of employees and residents of the urban community and allow those without the use of a private automobile to better participate," he wrote.

The letter was to Arthur Hilsenrad, deputy secretary of the Department of Budget and Management.

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, Young wrote. The act is intended to encourage governments to place businesses in downtowns and central business districts.

That opinion does not have any implications for state funding for the project, Young, the former mayor of Frederick, Md., said Wednesday.

Under a timetable presented to the system Tuesday, the county must get about $10 million from the state in fiscal 2001 to pay for construction and $1.2 million in fiscal 2002. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Students would be able to obtain degrees from System colleges at the Hagerstown campus.

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