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Council minutes reveal hesitation

July 19, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Two Hagerstown City Council members expressed reservations in May about making a strong pitch for a downtown location for a proposed University System of Maryland center, according to minutes from a meeting that was illegally closed to the public.

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The Herald-Mail obtained the minutes from the May 18 meeting after a state board ruled the city should have held the discussion in public session.

The council decided during the meeting to send a letter to Gov. Parris N. Glendening offering the city-owned Baldwin House complex on West Washington Street for the campus.

The move followed a steering committee's February recommendation that the center be built on 20 acres donated by Allegheny Power at its Friendship Technology Park.

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The written account of the council discussion shows that Councilmen William M. Breichner and Lewis C. Metzner questioned the wisdom of aggressively pushing for a downtown campus.

Breichner said at the time that he considered the location at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park south of town to be a "done deal," according to the minutes.

He suggested the city was "stepping into an area that we really do not want to tread," the minutes said. He also questioned whether the city would "do more damage to our position."

Metzner said he preferred a downtown site for the campus, but said the Friendship Technology Park site might be more appropriate, according to the minutes.

He pointed to the "major players" who had developed the campus plan and questioned whether the city wanted to oppose it.

The minutes revealed that Metzner was concerned about keeping Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center downtown.

Breichner said Monday that the university would be good for downtown but downtown might not be the best site for the university.

"I felt it was a mistake and I started that meeting off by saying that," he said. "Do I personally believe it belongs downtown? I'll tell you the truth, I don't."

Breichner said the key advantage of the Allegheny Power site is space to expand.

Breichner said he feels the University System center is too important to the entire county to risk over turf battles.

Breichner said he did not speak out on the issue because a majority of the city's council members favored the downtown plan.

"It's important to show unity in whatever project we do," he said.

Metzner said he prefers the downtown site. His concern was that the council might create an impression of infighting among local leaders that could jeopardize the project.

"The most important thing is it needs to go in Washington County," he said. "All other preferences have to involve No. 1."

Metzner said he believes county residents associate college campuses with green space.

"My sense is that the public in this area believes a sprawling campus setting would be better than downtown, and I find that hard to ignore, as well," he said.

Bruchey reiterated his support for a downtime campus.

"I've said all along that it's up to the governor," he said. If the governor doesn't finance the Allegheny Power site, "it's not going there," Bruchey said.

But Bruchey said a local university campus is important regardless of its location.

"We don't want to cause a problem, period," he said. "If it goes downtown, fantastic. If it goes to Allegheny Energy, fantastic. As long as it goes one of those two places."

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