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Townsend guided through future education center site

July 09, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend on Monday toured the dilapidated complex of buildings that is the future home of the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

One stop on a daylong swing through Western Maryland to promote her campaign for governor, it was Townsend's first visit accompanied by running mate Charles R. Larson.

Hagerstown Mayor and fellow Democrat William M. Breichner carefully led Townsend and a small entourage of campaign workers, elected officials and reporters through the dark, dank rooms.

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The tour began in what was once the Routzahn's department store, a long room with high ceilings that will eventually be converted into classrooms.

A first-floor doorway allowed the group to enter the adjoining former Baldwin House, a turn-of-the-century hotel whose crumbling plaster walls and rusting stamped tin ceilings belie its former beauty.

"I think it's exciting you can preserve an old building and have a sense of rootedness, of history, and turn it into an educational center," she said.

Townsend had to avoid some areas that have deteriorated so much they weren't safe to enter.

Breichner then walked Townsend around the outside of the complex, pointing out the need for improvements beyond the future university site, which is scheduled to open for classes in January 2004.

While the state budget includes $13.3 million to renovate the complex, no money has been set aside to demolish nearby buildings for parking and sidewalks. Community leaders have proposed a $4.4 million open space plan.

Breichner said he wasn't seeking a commitment from Townsend on Monday; he just wanted to remind her of the project's importance.

"We illustrated and demonstrated the need to open up the area and give it a campus-like atmosphere," Breichner said after the tour.

Monday also marked the official start of $1 million in remediation work that is needed to shore up the structures and remove hazardous materials such as asbestos and lead paint before the bulk of the renovation begins.

Workers from Callas Contractors Inc. set up a construction trailer behind the West Washington Street buildings and began stringing lights inside.

Townsend's likely opponent in the general election, Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., has said he also supports the creation of the Hagerstown Education Center.

In the past, however, he has criticized the Glendening-Townsend administration's handling of the site selection. A local steering committee recommended building a new University System of Maryland building away from downtown Hagerstown.

During the brief campaign stop in Hagerstown, Townsend also stopped at Girls Inc. to see its after-school programs.

Townsend sat on the floor with 5- and 6-year-olds who were learning about health and body awareness.

Later, one of the girls, Cheyenne Fairfax, handed Townsend some flowers and gifts.

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