Delegation backs parking plan

August 21, 2000

Delegation backs parking plan

By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

Washington County lawmakers, with the aid of Maryland's speaker of the house, are supporting an additional $4.4 million for parking and open space at the planned University System of Maryland education center in downtown Hagerstown.


All eight members of the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly signed a letter, a copy of which was made public Monday, backing the proposal.

"I feel that the open space concept is an integral part of the university itself. It's as much a part of the university as the building," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

The state has committed to renovating the Baldwin House complex on West Washington Street at an estimated cost of $12.5 million.


A task force of local businesspeople has proposed razing six downtown buildings for a 153-space parking lot and green space around the university. That would raise the project's price tag to $16.9 million.

Gov. Parris Glendening has not yet agreed to add the money to the state's budget and has not yet seen the formal proposal.

Local officials enlisted the support of another powerful elected official, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., when they met with him in Cumberland, Md., last week.

"I think it's a great idea," said Taylor, D-Allegany, who is talking to state agencies that could provide funding. The project could be classified under higher education, the environment, open space, economic development or transportation, he said.

There's no timetable on when a decision will be made, Taylor said.

Statewide, budget analysts fear that the costs of construction projects such as the university center could increase as contractors charge a premium for their services, which are in demand because of the good economy.

Bids on some projects have come in 5 percent to 15 percent higher than expected, said Mark Beck, who oversees the University System of Maryland's $293 million construction budget.

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, has expressed concern that the request is coming too late in the budget process.

Some other lawmakers didn't seem deterred.

"If the governor really wants it done, it's not too late," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, chairman of the delegation.

Local business leaders hope to meet with Glendening in September to lobby for the additions. McKee said local lawmakers will join them if asked.

"I feel our role is to support that effort in any way they want us to," McKee said.

The eight members of the local delegation had originally planned to meet Monday to discuss the issue, but decided it wasn't necessary since all agreed to sign the letter.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he initially had concerns about the property owners whose buildings would be torn down under the plan. But after hearing no outcry he decided to lend his support.

The plan addresses two of the biggest concerns that local officials had about locating the university center downtown instead of along Interstate 70, lawmakers said.

"The community was so torn about this decision and now is the time to make the best of it," Shank said.

Backers of the downtown site, including Glendening, maintain that the downtown site has adequate parking for at least the short term.

Munson, however, said the university center will need more parking if daytime classes are offered. More green space will help attract more students.

"I just think this is an amenity that's needed to create the kind of educational center people will look forward to being a part of," he said.

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