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County pushes Allegheny Power site for campus

July 20, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI and LAURA ERNDEs

The Washington County Commissioners will write to Gov. Parris N. Glendening, urging him to support an Allegheny Power site for the University System of Maryland, Hagerstown Center.

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Concerned that the project could be delayed while Glendening's staff studies the possibility of using a downtown Hagerstown site, the County Commissioners decided Tuesday to send him a letter as soon as possible.

"There is no sense having uncertainty hang over this project," Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said during the short, unscheduled discussion.

Glendening's communications officer said the governor is leaning toward the downtown site, although he hasn't seen detailed proposals on either the city-owned Baldwin complex on West Washington Street or the Allegheny Power site off Interstate 70 and Downsville Pike.

"In cases like the Hagerstown campus, his propensity is to build in the downtown location. That follows the true pattern of Smart Growth that we've established by law," said Michael E. Morrill.

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Glendening's Smart Growth initiative seeks to direct tax dollars toward revitalizing downtown areas.

If necessary, Glendening will visit each site, Morrill said.

The governor believes a downtown campus could spur other redevelopment nearby, said Del. Sue Hecht, R-Frederick/Washington, who spoke with him at last Thursday's groundbreaking for a new Washington County District Court building in Hagerstown.

"I think it's going to be a detailed business decision. We have to work with the administration on which place is best in the long run," Hecht said.

Glendening's office said he will make a decision after a committee of state administrators compares the merits of both sites.

The review process could take several months, which likely will delay by about six months the campus' opening, scheduled for September 2002, said Robert E. Sweeney, campus project director.

The University System won't solicit bids for design of a $13.4 million building until the governor makes a decision.

"We need to try to get an answer as soon as possible," Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Tuesday.

Commissioner John L. Schnebly said the letter should explain why the commissioners and the community think the Allegheny Power site is the better of the two.

The commissioners will ask Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and members of the Hagerstown City Council to back up their position by writing their own letter to the governor endorsing the Allegheny Power site. Other municipalities and business organizations also will be asked to write letters to the state.

Bruchey said Tuesday evening that he would not sign such a letter.

Some members of the Washington County steering committee, which endorsed the Allegheny Power site, have expressed concern that the University System will refuse to build a campus downtown.

"That is not an unreasonable interpretation," University System of Maryland Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg said Monday.

Allegheny Power Vice President of State Affairs James Latimer said the project is so important to the community that the company will support any site that meets the university's requirements.

"The issue is there's a real good chance we could lose this facility if you don't meet the requirements set forth by the University System of Maryland," he said.

Bruchey said earlier, and reiterated Tuesday, that Glendening has promised him the campus will be built in Washington County.

Sweeney and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, are scheduled to meet today with Gene Lynch, a special assistant to the governor. The meeting was rescheduled from Tuesday.

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