Fort's sale to group OK with Commissioners

June 08, 2000|By SCOTT BUTKI

Three Washington County Commissioners said this week they have no objection to Role Models America Inc. buying the former Fort Ritchie Army base provided the organization has private funding and a good plan.

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But the PenMar Development Corp. board, not the County Commissioners, would have to approve the sale of the base in northeast Washington County, Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said.

Steve Hull, PenMar board chairman, said he could not offer an opinion until he gets more information. PenMar Executive Director James LaFleur said he couldn't comment on the proposal.

Role Models, which plans to open a military-style academy for high school dropouts, is leasing space at the former Army base from PenMar.


PenMar was created by the Maryland General Assembly to redevelop the land for business use to replace the 2,000 jobs lost when Fort Ritchie closed in September 1998.

Role Models representatives are to meet with the full PenMar board Monday during the board's private monthly meeting at the base.

No cost estimates for the base have been provided by the County Commissioners, Role Models or PenMar.

"If they come up with the money I have no problem with it," Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said Thursday.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Iseminger expressed similar sentiments in separate interviews.

The other two commissioners, William J. Wivell and John L. Schnebly, said they would seriously consider Role Models' offer.

Wivell, the commissioners' representative on the PenMar board, said he would support Role Models' offer if that organization's plan is better than PenMar's plan, which is to bring high-tech jobs to the base.

"We need to select the option that will maximize the return to Washington County," Wivell said.

Max Andrews, Role Model vice president of operations, said Tuesday that the academy would within a year make an offer to buy the former base by taking out a 50-year mortgage.

He said the purchase money would come from private sources but would not reveal those sources.

On Tuesday, after meeting with Andrews, Snook said he liked the idea of Role Models buying the land, provided it doesn't interfere with plans for the academy, which is to begin offering classes in the fall.

"If the financing is there and they work out the details with regards to infrastructure I would see no problem with that," Iseminger said. "And I'm sure the PenMar board would feel the same way."

Andrews said Tuesday that the group had a $50 million funding commitment from the U.S. Department of Labor.

On Wednesday, a Department of Labor spokesman said the agency had committed to one year of funding at $10 million, not five years.

Robert Alexander, the Role Model founder and president, said Wednesday that the organization expects to receive $50 million even if it doesn't have written commitments for all of the money.

Andrews, Alexander and representatives of the Army, which still owns the land, did not return phone calls Thursday.

The academy will create about 200 jobs, Andrews has said. It will open with 100 students this fall before increasing to the full size of 535 students next spring, he said.

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