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Glendening decides on downtown campus site

November 24, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

A planned university center will be built at the Baldwin House complex in downtown Hagerstown, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening announced Wednesday.

The downtown site is the best location with regard to the Smart Growth Act and it is also the least expensive, Glendening said in a news release.

Glendening's attitude all along was "all things being equal, he would like it to go to a downtown site," spokesman Michael Morrill said. But before making a decision he wanted to make sure all factors were equal, he said.

Glendening returned from a trade mission to South America Tuesday and made his decision Wednesday morning, Morrill said. Glendening called some city, county and state elected officials to give them the news personally.

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There had been speculation about where the University System of Maryland center would go since December 1998, when it was announced that a center would be built in Washington County.

About a month ago Glendening was ready to choose the downtown site over the Allegheny Energy site at Friendship Technology Park off Interstate 70, Morrill said. But he decided to wait a month to compare those two sites to land at Hagerstown Community College, he said.

A comparison of costs determined it would cost about $11.7 million to open a campus at the Baldwin complex compared to $12.6 million for the Allegheny Energy site, Morrill said.

Rough estimates on the HCC site indicated it would be $5 million to $10 million more expensive than the Baldwin complex, he said.

Those costs include $4 million for road improvement and construction, $1 million for water, sewer and storm water management improvements, $400,000 for environmental mitigation and $300,000 for excavation, according to Morrill. Each of those figures is a rough minimum, he said.

The Baldwin House complex at 32-46 W. Washington St. is owned by the city and had been offered to the state for free by the Mayor and City Council. The vacant buildings once housed a department store, a hotel and a warehouse.

"By reusing these buildings and not paving over more of our valuable open space, we are practicing the ultimate in recycling and setting a national example for higher education," Glendening said in a statement.

"Communities across the nation are beginning to see the value of locating educational institutions in their business and cultural centers as strong catalysts for revitalization. I have confidence that this University System of Maryland center will exceed all expectations."

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey, a major supporter of the downtown site, said the campus will be an anchor for the downtown.

"Just with this announcement I think you'll see a spur in development for the downtown," Bruchey said.

"The University System of Maryland's Washington County Center will provide Hagerstown with a state-of-the-art learning facility and give Western Maryland men and women the training, resources and opportunities they need to compete in the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century," Glendening said.

"Locating this new campus in downtown Hagerstown will clearly benefit students by giving them convenient access to the city's resources and facilities. At the same time, the downtown facility meets our Smart Growth goals, since we are investing in the Hagerstown economy and revitalizing the city, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in unnecessary roads and other infrastructure costs and preserving our open space and natural resources," he said.

The other two sites were outside downtown and would have required the state and local government to pay for road and utility costs, Morrill said.

Critics of the downtown site say there will be parking problems but Bruchey says that won't be the case.

"The parking deck has over 300 empty spaces after 5 o'clock," Bruchey said.

He said parking and crime problems are a perception.

"Those were not major factors," Morrill said.

There won't be any problem finding a place for expansion into a second building later since there is a "glut" of unused buildings downtown, Morrill said.

A steering committee of local business and community leaders twice endorsed the utility site, the second time over the Baldwin House complex. University System Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg made it clear he favored the utility site.

Langenberg could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The Washington County Commissioners, members of the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly and some members of the steering committee shifted their support to the HCC site in recent weeks, saying it better fits the Smart Growth concept.

After finding out about the costs associated with that location, Glendening concluded the steering committee was right when it initially rejected the HCC site because of road, utility and other costs, Morrill said.

Morrill said the governor will put money in the fiscal 2000 budget for planning and design and construction money in the fiscal 2001 budget. The 2000 fiscal year began July 1.

A previous comparison between the Allegheny Energy site and the downtown site projected there could be a 12- to 16-month delay if the campus site were changed. The campus was scheduled to open in fall 2002 but that timetable was developed for the utility site.

Bruchey has said there would be no delay and that the campus could open in 2001.

Morrill said that would be a tight schedule since the construction money wouldn't be released until July 2001.

Staff Writer Dan Kulin contributed to this story.

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