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Sometimes, Smart Growth flies in face of reason

February 15, 2000

Here's a dilemma if you're the Washington County School Board administration: Do you stay in hideously cramped and outdated and ugly quarters on Commonwealth Avenue in offices that have been patched together like Legos in the hands of Calvin and Hobbes where the roof leaks, the floor gives beneath your feet and you're ashamed to bring even the most low-level job prospect?

Or do you move to downtown Hagerstown?

Hold on, we're thinking.

To move downtown, immediately you have to figure they better offer some plush digs with all kinds of amenities including - oh, I don't know, maybe a whirlpool.

Sensing that the Glendening administration at the moment would publicly finance a 12-story crack house if it conformed with Smart Growth regulations, county leaders believe this may be a good time to get the state to help pay for desperately needed new school headquarters.

You are probably saying right now that the state should be spending its money on new classrooms, not new administrative offices. You are wrong.

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The Commonwealth office building is a pit. There are regional jails in the Tri-State area that are more comfortable than the school administration building, which counts as one of its nearest neighbors the city sewage treatment plant. OK, now you are saying that convicted felons deserve better quarters than school administrators. Point taken.

But Washington County does have some talent, so how do we expect to recruit and keep good people like Deputy Superintendent Theresa Flak, and show them their work is appreciated, if we make them work out of Love Canal II?

But downtown. Well, why not? As Sen. Don Munson pointed out, the city core is headed toward an all-government dossier anyway, why not add to the till? It would bring downtown up to 200 professionals, who would presumably eat lunch and shop occasionally, and possibly add to the demand for spinoff, "support services" - i.e., bars.

"Hey Phil, want to head out after work for a little 'support service?'"

"No, I stepped on the scale this morning and decided that I really have to do something about this 'support service' belly."

And why stop at the School Board? There are lots of government operations that with a little thought and imagination could be moved downtown, and I am speaking specifically of the state roads department.

I mean, how cool would it be to see all those yellow trucks and big piles of salt sitting out in the middle of Public Square? Things get a little rowdy outside a couple of those downtown taverns? Can someone say "road grader?"

And now I notice the government has identified another one of its fully owned operations that, like the School Board, has outgrown its present location and needs to be expanded - this at the cost of about $40 million.

True, some people might be instantly down on an idea that involves moving Hagerstown Regional Airport downtown, but hear me out on this.

First, Hagerstown has one main street too many. We've got Washington, so Franklin, really, is just a spare. Take about a mile-long strip of it and you have a great runway.

And what could be more compliant with Smart Growth than putting your airport in the middle of downtown? After all, if there's such a thing as an airport that uses its land wisely, I haven't seen it. And what is an airport terminal building but indoor sprawl?

Come fly the friendly streets of Hagerstown.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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