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College chief may reject downtown site

July 19, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

University System of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg said Monday he does not know if he would build a system center in downtown Hagerstown, even if ordered to do so by the governor.

He said he hopes he will not be forced to decide whether to obey such an order from Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

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A committee of state administrators is studying two sites, the Baldwin House complex in downtown Hagerstown and Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park, and will recommend to Glendening which would be be better for a University System campus.

William Reuter, Wayne E. Alter Jr. and Terry Randall, members of the Washington County steering committee that endorsed the Allegheny Power site for the single-building campus, say they think Langenberg would refuse to build a campus at the downtown site.

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"That is not an unreasonable interpretation," Langenberg said in a phone interview. He would not elaborate.

Langenberg said system planners would determine how much different the market, needs and demand would be if the center were downtown rather than at the Allegheny Power site on Interstate 70 about five miles away, he said.

"We can neither really force the institutions to participate nor can we force the students," he said.

Eight system colleges have committed to offering classes at an Allegheny Power site.

Langenberg and System Capital Planning Director Mark Beck on June 16 urged the committee not to endorse the downtown site for the campus. Beck said it would cost more to renovate the Baldwin complex than to build the campus at the Allegheny Power site.

Reuter, Alter and Randall said they feared the state panel's work could result in the University System center not being built in Washington County.

"We are on the verge of blowing the deal," Reuter said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who has promoted the downtown site, said Glendening has assured him the county will get the campus.

"He has assured me there is no way we will lose this site," he said.

Robert E. Sweeney, campus project director, said the confusion about which site the governor wants will delay the project about six months.

The University system was scheduled to award bids in the next few months for design and architecture planning work for the campus, he said.

The University System will not seek bids until Glendening states whether he supports the steering committee's recommendation of the Allegheny Power site, Sweeney said.

Langenberg said switching campus sites at this point would delay the project by at least six months. The $13.4 million campus is scheduled to open for classes in September 2002.

The University System's capital improvement plan, which includes the campus, and the campus program plan, are both specific to the Allegheny Power site and would need to be revised or replaced if the site were changed, he said.

Gene Lynch, a special assistant to the governor, did not return phone calls Monday. Sweeney is to meet with Lynch today.

Maryland Planning Director Ronald Kreitner, who is on the committee that will make recommendations to the governor, said Friday it would not be unusual or surprising if the governor were to switch campus sites based on its recommendations.

One of the issues the committee is examining is which site better meets the governor's Smart Growth initiative, which seeks to promote growth in developed areas.

Both sites meet Smart Growth requirements, but in general a downtown revitalization site is considered more desirable than a technology park site, Kreitner said.

Kreitner said it will be a few months before the committee presents its recommendations to the governor. Langenberg said he thinks the matter will be resolved before then.

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