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Campus relocation opposed

December 16, 2002|by LAURA ERNDE

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County business leaders on Friday urged local lawmakers to resist any attempt to move the University System of Maryland project out of downtown Hagerstown.

Lawmakers reassured members of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce that the campus will stay at the former Baldwin House complex on West Washington Street.

"It's going to be built where it is now," Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, told the group of about 50 business leaders at the Plaza Hotel in Halfway.

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Whiting-Turner Contracting of Baltimore submitted the leading proposal to design and renovate the historic structure for $11.25 million, McKee said.

The Maryland Board of Public Works is expected to award the contract either Dec. 18 or Jan. 8, Mark Beck, director of capital planning for the University System, said in a telephone interview after the meeting.

Before he was elected governor, Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. said he might be willing to reconsider the campus location. Some of his local supporters - including his county campaign chairman, Robert Sweeney - have asked him to review that possibility.

Ehrlich is still sorting through many issues statewide and there is no official word about what he will do, spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said earlier this week. But lawmakers said after talking to key people in Ehrlich's administration they don't believe he will shift gears at this late date.

"You reach a point when there's both practical and political considerations," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

Callas Contractors of Hagerstown has already performed about $1 million worth of work for the state, removing hazardous material and shoring up the structure.

While lawmakers are not worried about whether the building will be renovated, they are concerned about a lack of operating money considering the state's budget squeeze.

The University System budget, which has grown by 12 percent a year over the last four years, is seen as a large target for budget cuts in the face of a $1.7 billion deficit, Shank said.

"We might have a beautiful building downtown and no money to operate. That would be a disaster," said Richard Phoebus, a retired banker and president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation.

Shank said it will be up to the entire delegation to fight for the money to operate the Hagerstown Education Center.

Three of the delegation's eight members attended the forum Friday morning.

Del.-elect LeRoy E. Myers Jr., a Republican who will represent Allegany and Washington counties, said he did not have much to tell business leaders because he is still learning about issues facing the state.

"That's why God gave me two ears and one mouth," he said.

The Chamber gave the delegation its agenda for the upcoming session, which will be dominated by budget concerns.

Business leaders would like to see the state preserve education funding and find money for local transportation projects including the widening of Interstate 81 and extension of the Hagerstown Regional Airport runway.

They also want to see lawmakers work on making employer-provided health care insurance more affordable and finding state money for the state trauma center system, including the Level III Trauma Center at Washington County Hospital.

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