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Campus still debated

Some supporters of Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. are asking him to reconsider the location of the University System of Maryl

Some supporters of Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. are asking him to reconsider the location of the University System of Maryl

November 14, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Some supporters of Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. are asking him to reconsider the downtown location of the University System of Maryland Hagerstown Education Center.

But state officials say it's probably too late to change the course of the long-awaited project.

The Maryland Board of Public Works is expected to hire a contractor in December to renovate the Baldwin House complex on West Washington Street, said Mark Beck, director of capital planning for the University System.

"We are moving quite quickly. We've already done a lot of work and invested a lot of time and energy," Beck said.

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Callas Contractors Inc. of Hagerstown is nearly finished removing asbestos and lead paint and stabilizing the structure, he said. The work cost about $1 million.

When asked in May whether he would support changing the location, Ehrlich said, "I would take a long look at it. There's some people here for whom I have great respect who want us to look at that this year - I'll put it that way."

Robert Sweeney, who ran Ehrlich's campaign in Washington County, said he has spoken often to Ehrlich about the benefits of building the campus on vacant land outside the city. Sweeney said other people in the community have talked to Ehrlich about the issue as well, but he declined to name them.

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said Tuesday it's too early to say what Ehrlich might decide. He's expected to announce his transition team on Friday, she said.

Charles Porcari, a spokesman for Gov. Parris Glendening, said it's too late to turn back now because the state already has sold bonds to pay for the renovation work.

Even Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, who has expressed reservations about a lack of parking downtown, said now is not the time to reopen the location question.

"I just think that we need to get on with it. That's the place where now we get it done most rapidly and most cheaply because we've already invested money," he said.

Sweeney argues that even now it would be less expensive to build new rather than renovate. He contends that the building would now be open for classes if the center was built on a site owned by Allegheny Energy's Friendship Technology Park near Interstate 70, which was the 1999 recommendation of a local steering committee made up of business leaders and elected officials.

Beck could not say what it will cost to hire a design-build contractor to finish the renovation, but expects the total project to be done within the $15.3 million budget.

Beck said previously unknown problems with the building were uncovered during the stabilization work, but nothing that can't be fixed.

"When you do renovation work, especially in old buildings, there are always surprises," he said.

Hagerstown officials are seeking another $4.2 million in streetscape and parking improvements around the building.

Since October, Hagerstown has been awarded a total of $1 million in state grants to help with that work.

It was Sweeney who originally got university officials interested in coming to Washington County when he was working on redeveloping the former Fort Ritchie Army base in Cascade. He later worked as project director for the campus.

Glendening chose the downtown location because of the spinoff effect it could have on revitalizing the area.

But Sweeney said the decision should have been made on what is best for education.

"The notion this is going to create economic development, somebody's smoking their own socks," Sweeney said.

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