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Townsend proves brave during tour

July 11, 2002|by TIM ROWLAND

What a photo in Tuesday's Morning Herald. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is touring the Afghanistanesque Baldwin House, future site of a university campus in downtown Hagerstown, and the expression on her face is one of "You've got to be kidding me."

I guess they can renovate anything, but yikes. The photo shows a hole in the floor, crumbling walls, a door without knobs, chipped glass and a battered old sink, the style of which was last seen in "The Shawshank Redemption."

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

But privately she had to be thinking, "Toto, I don't think we're in Hyannisport anymore."

The look of horror in her face was palpable. Much like the look of Maryland university officials themselves when they first took a gander at the place a couple of years ago. The camera caught their expressions too, and it wasn't pretty.

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The story said Townsend was "carefully" led through the complex, but "had to avoid some areas that have deteriorated so much they weren't safe."

Yes, that would be bad ink for the H-town. Don't want the lieutenant governor suddenly ending up in the basement, sans elevator.

But there is hope on the horizon. I saw a few days back that the contract to begin work on the old hotel has been awarded and the first step was to adorn the building with NEW PLYWOOD on the storefront windows.

Nothing like continuation on a theme. Next, I suppose they will be redecorating the lobby with new winos.

The plywood, which as I understand it will be "more attractive" plywood than the old stuff, is necessary because before actual renovation can begin, the old pigeon palace needs to be - and I love this word - "remediated."

At first I thought this meant the building was going to have to repeat the second grade, but it turns out that workers have to go in and clear out all the materials that can, technically, cause death.

If you hear a crash in the middle of the night, you'll know it must have been load-bearing asbestos.

Crews will have to scour the building to remove dangerous items such as asbestos, lead paint and Steve Sager. It was Former Mayor Sager, after all, who along with Former Mayor Bob Bruchey, led the charge for locating the campus downtown instead of on the outskirts.

So Bruchey and Sager have that in common; they also share the title prefix "former," not that I am implying there is any connection with supporting grandiose projects that don't quite pan out and getting the hole punched for your opponent at the ballot box.

Proponents say that if this works out, the Baldwin-campus conversion could turn into the brass ring the downtown has sought in a decades-long quest to bring back the inner-city glory days. Who knows, it could indeed be a tremendous success.

And if it is, I will be the first to remind you that I supported the project from the beginning.

Whether I actually did support the plan from the beginning or not, I don't know. I'm sure I took a stand on it, but frankly I can't remember what that stand was. So I'll just be like everyone else in the county: If it works out, I'll say I knew it all along - and if it doesn't, I'll say I tried to warn everyone of the impending tragedy.

They are still saying that classes will start up in 18 months. Perhaps. And by the looks of that photo, the first courses offered will be in Pigeon Goo Removal 101 and a survey class in "Is My Respirator Working Properly? - Keys to Staying Alive in Postmodern Hagerstown."

If nothing else though, Townsend's visit proved her toughness. Anyone who can walk into the Baldwin monstrosity in a black cocktail dress and pearls, and live to talk kindly about the experience, has gone a long way toward getting my vote. Let's see if her opponent, Rep. Bob Ehrlich, will do the same.

We won't even make him wear the pearls.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or e-mail him at timr@herald-mail.com.

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