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Possible hospital site in city is considered

July 16, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Under a City of Hagerstown proposal, Washington County Hospital would be built on a city block on the east end of downtown Hagerstown and a parking deck would be built on an adjacent block, replacing about 55 to 60 properties.

The site is one of three being considered by a search committee.

The city's suggested location of the hospital is between East Franklin and East Washington streets, between Mulberry Street and North Cannon Avenue, three anonymous sources said. The property is across Cannon from CVS and the McDonald's restaurant.

To meet the needs of a new hospital, the city said a parking deck could be built on the block surrounded by Washington, Antietam and Mulberry streets and Cannon Avenue, sources said.

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The Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company, owns land and has buildings in that block, including an existing parking deck on Antietam. The Health System is the hospital's parent company.

Four sources identified one of the other three possible sites for Washington County Hospital as 231 acres of agricultural-zoned land near Hagerstown Community College and Robinwood Medical Center. The property is west of the college and north of the medical center.

The property by the college is owned by R B Young Limited Liability Limited Partnership.

The Robinwood Medical Center is owned by the Washington County Health System. The Robinwood Medical Center will be 373,000 square feet when a current expansion is finished in August, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The site by the college would require the extension of roads, as well as extending water and sewer lines, sources said.

The third site being considered was identified last week as the 450-acre Allegheny Energy Friendship Technology Park, south of Hagerstown off Interstate 70. It previously was considered a possible site for the University of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

The hospital search committee has not yet recommended a site, said James Hamill, president and chief executive officer of the Washington County Health System.

Only the downtown site is within the city limits.

The 461,153-square-foot hospital has 2,134 total employees, making it the fifth-largest employer in the county, according to the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

The Health System has 2,952 employees, which the Economic Development Commission said makes it the largest employer in the county.

Hagerstown Mayor William B. Breichner has asked the Hagerstown City Council to adopt a resolution offering to use its power of eminent domain to forcibly take land to help the hospital if it goes to the downtown site.

At the July 9 Hagerstown City Council meeting, three of the five councilmembers - N. Linn Hendershot, Carol N. Moller and Kristin B. Aleshire - said they support the resolution, which is scheduled for a vote at the July 23 meeting.

Councilwoman Penny May Nigh opposes the resolution.

Councilman Lewis Metzner was absent from the meeting but said Monday he supports the resolution.

In a meeting with a hospital search committee, the city also offered to give the hospital financial breaks on water, sewer and electricity if it chooses the city site, Breichner said. The hospital is one of the city's top five customers for water, sewer and electricity, Breichner said.

The city also has asked the state Office of Smart Growth to help provide other incentives to the hospital to choose the city site, he said.

Under eminent domain, a public agency takes land needed for a public project and pays the owner fair market value for the property. The owner can contest the attempt and take the matter to court.

Hamill has said it would be "virtually impossible" for the search committee to consider the site the city recommends unless the council also offers to use its eminent domain power.

The 330-bed hospital is on 11 acres.

Hamill announced in November that the system was considering building a new hospital.

After a preferred site is selected, the system can get a better handle on the estimated costs and determine whether it can afford a new hospital, Hamill said.

A decision on whether the system can afford a new hospital won't occur until next summer, Hamill said.

If the health system's board of directors votes to move forward with the project, construction could begin in fall 2003, Hamill said.

A new hospital would be more efficient, address space constraints and allow the health system to implement new medical technology and equipment, Hamill said.

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