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City should name staffer to oversee campus plan

March 10, 2003

The University System of Maryland got a new chancellor about six months ago, but in the process the project to bring a new campus to Hagerstown "lost a step or two" according to the UM official heading up the project. The fact that the university has assigned someone to head up the project full-time emphasizes the need for the city government to do the same.

Donald Boesch, Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, told a group of Washington County's state lawmakers last week that state budget cuts could make it difficult to get the center up and running.

The university can cover the $350,000 startup cost, but $1 million a year will be needed to run it.

With all the budget-cutting going on in Annapolis, it would be relatively easy to delay the opening of this campus for a year or two. That's time this county can't afford to lose in the effort to educate local citizens and redevelop the downtown area.

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At this point, City Engineer Rodney Tissue is overseeing all construction-related matters, while Mayor William Breichner is handling all other contacts. We don't doubt the mayor's commitment to the city, but this is the most important city-related project in 50 years. It needs a top city staff person committed to it on a full-time basis.

That person should become knowledgeable about the project and the university's budget and be ready to lobby both university officials and state lawmakers to keep everything on track.

That person should also have the authority to help the university deal with other state agencies, the police department and vendors. Such a person should even be working with local Realtors to make sure that university officials who relocate here are treated well.

Could Mayor Breichner do all that? No doubt, if that were his only job. But he has many other official duties. Taking on this added burden would not only be unfair to him, but unwise.

We urge him and the council to designate someone to make this project his or her full-time priority.

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