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UM officials' change of heart will spare the Baldwin House

June 21, 2000

On Tuesday, officials representing Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening told the Hagerstown City Council that the state has decided to renovate the Baldwin House complex for a new downtown campus of the University Systems of Maryland instead of tearing down the buildings and starting over.

It was a complete reversal of the June 1999 assessment by university officials. But John Frece, the governor's point man on "Smart Growth" initiatives, said the studies that led to this decision were more comprehensive than those done previously. We hope so, because the last assessment couldn't have been more gloomy.

Speaking before the steering committee charged with evaluating three proposed campus sites on June 16, 1999, Mark Beck, the University System Capital Planning Director, told the group that it was not in the best interests of the state "to spend more money for a facility that would provide less in terms of a final product."

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Beck took issue with the city's claim that re-using the old building would cost $4 million less that building a new structure for $12 million at Friendship Technology Park. Beck said renovation of the Baldwin House would cost at least $12 million and said that only the facade and some exterior walls appeared to have any structural integrity.

Everything else would have to be gutted, Beck said, in part because of the difficulty of fitting modern plumbing, heating and electrical conduits into the older buildings' more confined spaces. Beck also questioned the amount of asbestos and lead paint in the structures, materials that would have to be removed if the buildings were re-used.

Beck wasn't in Hagerstown yesterday, but state officials said he'd reviewed and concurred with the latest report, which Frece said holds that barring any major surprises, the project might be done for less than the estimated cost, now $12.5 million.

Although The Herald-Mail has taken the position that the governor has made his decision and that the community must get behind it, we share some concerns raised by County Commissioners John Schnebly and Paul Swartz about whether they'll be enough amenities and open space for an inviting campus. For now, we'll have to take it on faith that the governor will provide the resources needed to make this project a success.

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