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House committee passes Hagerstown education center project

April 02, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - A House panel approved Hagerstown's education center project Monday, virtually ensuring it won't get cut from the state budget this legislative session.

The House Appropriations Committee agreed with the Senate to give the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center $12.4 million to be used to finish renovating the Baldwin House complex downtown during the fiscal year that begins in July.

It was among $720 million worth of capital projects that will be sent to the full House for approval this week.

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The House Appropriations Committee added $15 million worth of local bond bill grants to the capital budget, including $750,000 for four Washington County nonprofits.

That funding is less certain because the Senate rejected all local grant requests earlier in the session. A final decision will be made later this week by a House and Senate conference committee.

Hagerstown and Washington County elected officials welcomed the news about the university.

"We're going to still hold our breath until the last day, but it certainly would cause everyone a great deal of relief that we're getting closer to having the funding for that project," Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said.

Del. Sue Hecht, a member of the Appropriations Committee, said overwhelming community support helped secure the money in a tight budget year.

"This community has pulled together so positively on this. Everyone stayed very pat on this, very focused on what we needed to do," said Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington.

Another factor weighing in the project's favor was its readiness, she said. The legislature is delaying projects that are not prepared for construction to begin.

Work on the Hagerstown Education Center should have begun by now because it was approved in last year's state budget.

When the economy began slowing down last year, Gov. Parris Glendening deferred spending of all but $850,000 for structural work on the West Washington Street complex.

"The university project has been budgeted. We were promised it. It should never have been a problem and I'm glad it wasn't," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who helped shepherd the University System project through the Senate, was glad to see the House panel agree.

"I am absolutely thrilled. I think that's probably the best news of the session," he said.

Although optimism was running high on the University System project Monday, no one was ready to celebrate the tentative approval of the grants to local nonprofits.

Munson said it's unlikely the grants will survive conference committee negotiations.

Hecht said she was happy, although somewhat surprised, that her committee earmarked so much for Washington County. In a typical year, the county gets about $500,000 through the bond bill program.

The local grants to nonprofits that were approved by the House Appropriations Committee Monday are:

- $250,000 for the American Red Cross of Washington County toward its new headquarters building off Eastern Boulevard in Hagerstown.

- $200,000 for Associated Builders and Contractors of the Cumberland Valley toward renovation of the former Armory Building in downtown Hagerstown.

- $200,000 to help Girls Inc. of Hagerstown build a new gym at its Washington Avenue center.

- $100,000 to help the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County build a new gym at the Noland Village public housing complex in Hagerstown.

Only one local project didn't get any money. The Hagerstown Model Railroad Museum had asked for $50,000 toward restoring an old train station in Sharpsburg.

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