Baldwin house as campus site a complex decision

June 14, 1999

After touring the crumbling, downtown Baldwin House to see whether it might be renovated into a University of Maryland branch campus, a spokesman for the school system called the activity "enlightening."

No doubt it was that, although I don't know whether "enlightening" can be taken as a positive in this instance. Train wrecks are enlightening. So is vascular kidney surgery on The Learning Channel, but unless you're Marcus Welby or possibly Hannibal Lecter, it's nothing you'd think of downloading as a screensaver.

"Enlightening" is like "interesting." When it tastes as if your cousin's toddler may have thrown up into the gazpacho at the Memorial Day picnic but you don't want to be offensive, you say the flavor is interesting. (As a helpful hint, "complex" works well too because cooks take it as a compliment. And technically, the flavors in Alpo are probably complex, so even if you hate it it's not like you're lying. For soups or stews, try "My, this has such a depth." Flattered cooks will think you're referring to the stew when you are actually referring to the bowl).


Reading between the lines, it's looking less and less like El Baldwinado will host higher learning anytime soon. Proponents of the site made apologies for its appearance, saying some interior demolition had already begun. But photos showed a University official staring at the old department store's plaster walls with the horrified expression of one who has, for the first time, seen his new sweetheart with her hair up in curlers and a facial mudpack cracking across her cheekbones like the Bonneville alkali flats.

A local Steering Committee is determining the site for the local branch, choosing between the Baldwin House and 20 acres of land at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park.

Baldwin House supporters see their site as a way to bring people downtown. Allegheny Power supporters see their site as a way to keep people from having to go downtown.

County Commissioner Paul Swartz caused a stir when he suggested crime would be a problem downtown. Hagerstown Mayor Bob Bruchey immediately snapped that city crime is a "misperception."

Oh? And pray, who might have prompted such a hideously inaccurate misperception? Why Hagerstown Mayor Bob Bruchey, of course, when he announced in April the need for a Zero Tolerance stance on city crime, saying specifically that "drastic times call for drastic measures." After a couple of shootings in Hagerstown he said, "We're facing a long, hot summer and this is just the beginning."

I suppose those who were shot at will be happy to hear they were just the victims of a misperception. The shooters should be happy, too. After all, who was ever convicted of second-degree attempted misperception?

To save the mayor from shearing a pin, I should mention that most of the violent city crime does not occur in the business district. The city center has its share of mutants who make you feel queasy about walking the streets, but unless you are openly and carelessly brandishing Twinkies and unscratched lottery tickets you're probably pretty safe.

I should warn the mayor, though, that I am no longer a supporter of his Zero Tolerance program. I think he needs to bump it up a notch to a Negative-Three Tolerance. Under a Negative-Three Tolerance approach to crime, anyone driving a chrome-wheeled Honda Civic or wearing Spandex (particularly with a body-fat index greater than one's IQ) would constitute probable cause for search and seizure and general unprovoked police harassment.

Now that policy is nothing if not pure enlightenment.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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