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University at HCC-Chief buy land

August 02, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON and SCOTT BUTKIs

Hagerstown Community College was the obvious location for the University System of Maryland, Hagerstown center, until a quasi-public agency turned down a donation request and Allegheny Power offered free land, steering committee members say.

The college has a 187-acre campus with several facilities, including its Athletic, Recreation and Community Center, Advanced Technology Center, theater, library and classroom buildings.

The 22-member steering committee formed Dec. 15 to find a place for the system campus reviewed four sites, eventually endorsing one offered by Allegheny Power.

HCC President Norman P. Shea, a member of the committee, wrote a paper for the group describing the "synergy" of putting the university at the community college on Robinwood Drive, just east of Hagerstown.

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To him, HCC was the best option. "I thought that from day one," he said.

Others agreed. "I thought it should be located next to HCC," said Allegheny Power Vice President James Latimer, a steering committee member and a member of the college's board of trustees. "I thought it would be a good place to put it," he said.

"To be perfectly honest, that was my first choice all along," said County Commissioner Paul Swartz, co-chairman of the steering committee.

The campus is modeled on the Shady Grove Center, a system center in Rockville, Md.

Harley Cloud, center director and steering committee member, said that both the college and the Allegheny Power sites would work well.

There were some definite advantages to the college site, particularly access to the college facilities, he said.

So what happened?

Committee members originally reviewed four sites in the county, not including the last-minute offer of the Baldwin House in downtown Hagerstown. The HCC location was on more than 116 acres beside the campus.

At the time, the Washington County Industrial Foundation (CHIEF) was looking to buy the property for a high-technology park, said Merle Elliott, president of CHIEF.

The foundation had an option to buy the land from Jack Young, the property's owner and owner of the Beaver Creek Golf Course. But studies showed developing the land would be too expensive, Elliott said.

"We dropped our proposal. It was not economically feasible for us to proceed," he said.

Steering committee members in January suggested CHIEF buy the land and donate it free to the college, but Elliott refused.

"We would not have been able to make a gift of it. If we give it away we can't stay in business," Elliott said.

Elliott said the donation would bankrupt CHIEF.

The system was recommending the county find a 20-acre site for the campus. But Young said Friday he was not interested in selling just part of the 116 acres.

There were other arguments against the Robinwood Drive site.

Washington County Planning Director Robert Arch said building the university center at HCC would cause a significant traffic problem. With additional traffic, the intersection of Edgewood Drive on Dual Highway would need improvements.

In addition, Robinwood Drive, between the Robinwood Medical Center and HCC, would have to be expanded from two to four lanes, he said. Edgewood becomes Robinwood at Mount Aetna Road.

The land at HCC also is in the flood plain and would require another road extension, Arch said. Arch told steering committee members the improvements would cost at least $1 million. "That's a very, very preliminary number. It could easily go substantially higher," he said.

Latimer said he persuaded Allegheny President Alan Noia to donate 20 acres in its Friendship Technology Park to the university. "They need a free site. We have got to make sure that it happens," he said.

With free land offered and expenses to consider, the steering committee decided Feb. 1 against the HCC site. "That made it a no-brainer. The real block is the infrastructure upgrade," said Shea.

"Traffic would be unbearable there," Latimer said.

Neighboring residents didn't want the site developed, Swartz said. "With everything else that came up, Allegheny came out on top," he said.

The steering committee endorsed the site again June 16, after the system chancellor said it was a better site than the city-offered Baldwin House Complex site.

When CHIEF decided not to buy the land, HCC got a loan from the county and paid about $1.4 million for it. The property on the west side of Robinwood Drive runs to the edge of several streets off Jefferson Boulevard. The purchase was recorded April 29.

HCC has no plans for the land, and college officials say it is intended as a buffer to protect the campus from development.

The eventual land purchase is unrelated to the campus site decision, Shoop said. It would not have made sense for the college to use its money to buy the land and then give it to the system, he added.

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