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Full funding essential for downtown campus

September 27, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

A college campus could be open in downtown Hagerstown by 2004, University of Maryland officials said this week, if they get $500,000 during the next General Assembly session for start-up costs. That's just the beginning of the cash needed to make this facility a success, so local folks should get ready to do whatever it takes to get funding for the project.

Meeting Tuesday at the Frostburg Center, university officials said the $13.3 million needed to renovate the old Baldwin House complex is in the state budget. What hasn't been approved is the half a million dollars needed for initial operating and service costs.

That's not much in a state budget that now tops $21 billion annually, but last week the state comptroller's office announced that the state faces a $1.7 billion deficit over the next two years. How that gap gets closed will depend on who's got the legislative clout to keep their pet projects from getting cut.

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The $500,000 might survive, but how about the $4.2 million needed for an open-space plan to make the area around the classroom building attractive, and provide a 153-space parking lot?

In July, the Washington County Commissioners voted to pay up to $300,000 to demolish the old McCrory's building for open space, if the state didn't come up with the funds.

In August, the city voted to seek $1.1 million for the Community Legacy program, a part of Gov. Parris Glendening's Smart Growth program.

It would be nice to believe that the state will come through will all the cash needed, but Glendening, who chose the site on the grounds that it fit in with his Smart Growth concept, is on his way out. It will be tempting for a legislature facing some tough economic times to fund what's absolutely necessary, and put the rest on hold.

Local people can't allow that to happen, because education is the key to local prosperity. As we noted in July, this county's median income is $40,617, compared to $60,276 for Frederick County, where twice as many people have four-year college degrees. One way or another, this project must be fully funded.

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