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Campus choice looms

June 14, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Allegheny Power executives have a choice to make Wednesday: Agree to build a University System of Maryland campus in their company's business park or in downtown city property.

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The 22-member steering committee that will select the campus site Wednesday night includes Allegheny Power President Alan Noia and Vice President James Latimer.

The group must decide between renovating the 60,000-square-foot Baldwin Complex at 32-46 W. Washington St. or building a new facility on 20 acres Allegheny has donated.

The campus may become the first building to go up at the company's Friendship Technology Park on Downsville Pike near I-70. Some believe the campus could attract other business tenants to the park.

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The benefits to the county outweigh the benefits to Allegheny Power, according to utility spokeswoman Midge Teahan. She said the executives will consider the community, not their company.

"We have always been totally objective," she said. "Our interest from the beginning was to have this facility in Washington County."

Noia and Latimer could not be reached for comment.

Washington County Commissioner Paul Swartz, who is co-chairman of the steering committee, said he felt it would be a conflict of interest for the Allegheny Power representatives to vote.

"I do feel the Allegheny Power people will be a little more quiet and support whatever the committee's recommendations are," said Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, co-chairman of the steering committee.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II advocates the downtown site, saying opening a campus there would boost redevelopment.

"It's appropriate for him to work as hard as he can to promote it," said County Administrator Rodney Shoop, also a steering committee member.

The steering committee is composed of representatives of business, government and education. Members of the panel say a decision will be based on what's good for the area and not on personal interests.

Michael Callas, president of Callas Contractors and a member of the steering committee, said his company will make a bid on the campus no matter which site is chosen.

"I would certainly think we'd be interested in it. We're in the general contracting business. But I wouldn't see any conflict of interest there," he said. Callas has been bidding on state contracts for 40 years, he said.

The University System's presence could affect Frostburg State University and Hagerstown Community College, both of which have representatives on the committee.

No single voice will dominate the decision, Snook said.

"No one is going to jeopardize the project. I think this group will do whatever it can to make this happen," he said. "They are all professionals and they're going to do what's best for the community."

"I don't think anyone can say they're doing this for business reasons. We're way beyond this," Snook said.

The committee will reach a consensus rather than take a vote, he said. "I don't see a divided group," he said.

Bruchey and City Economic Development Coordinator Deborah Everhart will present the proposal for the Baldwin House Complex at Wednesday night's meeting.

Bruchey wasn't originally a member of the steering committee, which chose the Friendship Technology Park location over three other sites Feb. 1. Snook said it was his oversight that the mayor wasn't initially included on the panel.

On May 19, the city decided to offer the Baldwin Complex, which consists of the five-story former Baldwin House, the former Routzahn's department store and a former Grand Piano warehouse.

The County Commissioners reconvened the steering committee to consider the city's proposal. Bruchey said that while he believes the group doesn't have any conflicts of interest, it's not completely objective.

"I don't think we're going to get a fair shake," he said.

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