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Baldwin demolition nixed

June 21, 2000|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

The state is rejecting an independent recommendation to demolish instead of renovate the Baldwin House, primarily because the engineering firm did not account for the historical significance of the building slated to be part of a state university center in Hagerstown, several state officials said Wednesday.

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Some Washington County Commissioners questioned why the state would reject a recommendation from the $10,400 analysis, which was paid for by the Hagerstown and Washington County governments.

"Why spend the money if you're not going to take the advice?" asked County Commissioner Paul L. Swartz.

The Baldwin House, a former hotel, is a four-story building on West Washington Street in downtown Hagerstown. It is one of three buildings in the so-called Baldwin House complex that would be renovated for a $12.5 million state university center that could open in fall 2003.

The state considers the building a historical structure.

A separate $4.4 million proposal to provide "open space" around the planned university center was presented Tuesday during a closed-door meeting of city and county elected officials.

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Also Wednesday, John W. Frece, special assistant to the governor for Smart Growth, said statements he made Tuesday that the independent analysis did not recommend demolishing any of the buildings in the Baldwin House complex, were unintentionally wrong.

"You could call it a misstatement. There was no intention to mislead anyone," Frece said.

County Commissioner William J. Wivell criticized Frece for his Tuesday comments.

"If they read the study they are not being honest with us. If they haven't read it why did they draw their conclusions prior to reading the report. We were misled," Wivell said.

Frece said Wednesday he had not read the analysis prior to the Tuesday meeting with city and county elected officials. The analysis was done by the Baltimore engineering firm Whitney Bailey Cox Magnani.

Frece said he attended a meeting earlier this month during which state officials decided to renovate the three main buildings: A former department store, warehouse and hotel.

"The conversation I heard was all about how to renovate. The discussion discounted any recommendation to demolish" the larger buildings, Frece said.

He said recommendations in the analysis to demolish two smaller buildings behind the former hotel will be followed. He said the plan has always been to tear down those buildings.

Also, recommendations to renovate the former Routzahn's department store and a large concrete warehouse will be followed. But the recommendation to demolish the Baldwin House has been discounted.

"The engineering firm did not know or take into account the Baldwin House as a historical property, and nothing in the report said it had to be demolished," Frece said.

"We reviewed it and came up with a different conclusion. Nothing in that report lead us to the conclusion that we had to demolish a historic structure," Frece said.

The analysis, a copy of which was obtained by The Herald-Mail Tuesday evening, states, "It does not appear that (the Baldwin House) can be renovated for the proposed new use. We recommend that this building be demolished."

Also, the analysis states that the firm did not know whether the building had any historical significance.

Charles R. Middleton, vice chancellor of academic affairs for the University System of Maryland, said the recommendation to demolish the Baldwin House was an "ambiguous" recommendation.

"They didn't say we had to tear it down," said Middleton, who accompanied Frece to the joint city/county meeting Tuesday.

Middleton said he didn't bring up the recommended demolitions on Tuesday because although he had seen the report before the meeting, he was "unsure of the details."

Maryland Department of General Services Deputy Secretary Richard Pecora said, "They don't say it (renovation) can't be done, they say it doesn't appear it can be done.

"It's a soft recommendation that didn't take into account other values they didn't factor in the historical significance," Pecora said.

Commissioner Wivell said not following the recommendations in the analysis would be "an injustice to the taxpayers of Maryland."

Swartz said there needs to be more discussion about why the state is not following the recommendations in the analysis.

"If we spend money on a structural analysis we certainly should pay close attention to it," Swartz said.

Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said if the state is going against recommendations in the analysis, "It would be nice to have the reason why."

"But regardless it appears the governor wants to renovate and they're the ones footing the bill," Iseminger said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said Tuesday he was surprised to hear that the buildings could be renovated.

"I was expecting them to say tear it down," Bruchey said.

Bruchey said Wednesday he hadn't read the analysis yet and therefore declined to comment on the document.

The mayor and County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook were the only ones handed copies of the analysis during the Tuesday joint city/county meeting.

Snook did not return a telephone message left at his business Wednesday morning.

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