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Campus site questioned

March 08, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - A Maryland Senate subcommittee is questioning Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening's decision to locate a University System of Maryland Education Center in downtown Hagerstown and has asked for a study comparing all sites that had been considered.

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Some members of the local legislative delegation are worried the subcommittee's action could hurt the project's chances.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, D-Charles, said he wants the University System of Maryland to compare all the sites that had been considered before the Bowman House complex was selected and report back by Oct. 1.

The report is to include an estimate of student demand at each location.

"We want to make sure that if we're going to make the state investment, the utilization rates are the best that they can be," said Middleton, who chairs the Capital Budget Subcommittee of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, a member of the subcommittee, said he supports the request for the study, which would be included in the state budget next to the $697,000 being earmarked for planning the education center.

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Other members of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly disagreed.

Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, compared the move to a child playing with matches.

"We may get burned and not have anything," he said.

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, who sits on the Capital Budget Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, said she'll work to remove the site study.

"I think we've fought that battle. We need to embrace that site and move ahead," she said.

Over the objections of some in the community, Glendening in November decided the education center should be at the Baldwin House complex site on West Washington Street.

"The governor decided that site was best suited because it matches Smart Growth policy," said spokeswoman Raquel Guillory.

Middleton said he supports Smart Growth, but wants to make sure that policy is balanced with the university's need for a successful program.

A proposed site at Allegheny Power's Friendship Technology Park off Interstate 70 can be considered Smart Growth because it's in an area targeted for growth, Middleton said.

That site had been endorsed by a site committee.

Frostburg State University has demonstrated the down side of putting a higher education facility in downtown Hagerstown because its Public Square center is losing $100,000 a year, Munson said.

"I think there is great concern in Washington County and a huge amount of pessimism as to whether this thing is going to work in downtown Hagerstown," Munson said.

If the University System's report shows that downtown is the best location, Munson said he would support that.

"We all want it to succeed wherever it is," he said.

The University System of Maryland is prepared to do whatever the legislature requires, said spokesman Chris Hart.

The University System will know for sure what the legislature wants when it passes the state's fiscal 2001 budget, probably by April 3.

"The intentions are good. Everybody just wants to make sure we've got that right," Hart said.

It's too early to say whether the new study requirement will delay the project, which is scheduled to open in late 2003, Hart said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said he doesn't see any need to look at other sites because Glendening has chosen the city-owned Baldwin complex.

In addition to the site study, the subcommittee wants to attach several other strings to the project's $697,000 budget for next year.

First, the University System could not spend the money until there is a detailed plan for the center's design.

"That planning money is going to stay where it is until we know definitely where this thing is going to be," Hart said.

The subcommittee also wants to see a cost-benefit analysis of renovating the Baldwin House versus tearing it down and rebuilding. That analysis is already under way, Bruchey said.

The governor's office wants to keep the building's facade in order to maintain the historic look of the area, while realizing that some parts of the building will need to be demolished, Guillory said.

Robert Sweeney, project coordinator for the Hagerstown Education Center, could not be reached for comment.

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