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New university may be ready by last millennium

April 03, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Call me impatient, but weren't we told this would be a reasonably fast operation? Didn't our leaders tell us the major obstacles to success had been cleared and it would all be over in a rapid, magnificent display of activity? Weren't we told that people would be cheering in the streets?

I don't care how they try to spin it now - telling us we have to be patient and that we were wrong to expect fast resolution - I feel as if the end is never going to come and that we have indeed been dragged into a never-ending quagmire.

I mean, is the Baldwin House EVER going to be finished?

Going by initial projections of when it would open, the first graduating class of the University System of Maryland-Hagerstown ought to be sizing up their caps and gowns for a graduation trip across the stage this May.

I strolled through downtown Hagerstown this week, not because I had lost a bet, but because I wanted to see for myself all the progress of this "cornerstone to the rebirth of downtown Hagerstown." Looks to me like the city needs a new midwife.

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Now I will say this, there was a bare, lighted light bulb dangling from a cord somewhere on the third floor, so perhaps that passed as activity. Or perhaps one of the pigeons was up late reading Proust.

But short of that, the place was deader than the acting career of Joan Rivers' daughter. No buzz of power saws, no crash of demo work, no pleasing smells of fresh lumber and paint.

Now apparently, most of the activity is going on in the back, or in places it is not easily seen from the street. But on this particular day it did not yet look like a plausible institution of higher learning. In fact, it still looks largely like something the Munsters put on the market when they decided to move up.

Of course my perceptions are not always foolproof, so I sought the opinion of a second party who could confirm or deny my impressions.

Luckily I found a gentleman standing out in front of the old Wards building looking like maybe he didn't know District Court had moved. He had a jean jacket and a three-day growth, but then so did I, so I didn't hold it against him.

Demonstrating my Peter Arnett-like journalistic judgment, I decided to approach him to see if he would grant me an interview.

"Sir," I said. "When do you think the university campus is going to be finished?"

Instantly we were both a little uncomfortable, since it was clear that the last time anyone had sought his opinion on anything, it was as to whether his nighttime meal should be supersized.

He was not a man to let opportunity go to waste, however, and he thought it over with a mental force that would have blown down trees, were there any left downtown to topple.

Finally he had an answer, a grin slowly spread across his face like the light of the rising sun spreading down the side of a wall.

Of course he had to repeat the question: "When do I think the college is going to be finished?" He then delivered the coup de grace. "Nineteen hundred and never."

He added a "heh, heh, heh," before he abruptly stopped and leered at me through narrowed eyes, trying to satisfy himself that this pearl of comic wisdom had not been cast before a swine of an unappreciative audience.

You can see the bind I was in. On one hand, it was a reasonably good and witty response, one worthy of building a newspaper column around, in fact.

On the other hand, I felt a moral but uncomfortable obligation to inform the gentleman that well over two years ago, most of society had moved out of the 1900s and into a brand new millennium.

But perhaps there's a cause-and-effect relationship between living in downtown Hagerstown and seeing time as the Buddhas see it, not as a continuum but as a vast lake out of which events rise and fall.

That way, the Baldwin House renovation and the rebirth of downtown Hagerstown aren't behind schedule - in fact we may have already happened and we just don't know it. If, at the end of March in the year 2003, it can be 1900 again, anything is possible.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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