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Mayor: We do a lot to ensure the success of USM center project

October 04, 2003|By William Breichner

Approximately one year ago, I met with several members of the Greater Hagerstown Committee (GHC) to discuss the need for a city representative to work with the appropriate State official in a effort to insure the success of the University System of Maryland, Hagerstown campus. Because of the significance of this project to the future of Hagerstown and Washington County, I agreed that this was a worthy objective. The only concern in my mind was whether this would be a paid position (full-time or part-time), a knowledgeable volunteer, or a member of our staff who might be available.

At the same time, the city was in the process of hiring John Budesky as Director of Administrative Services. It was suggested that he could easily handle the task. However, a number of events occurred on the state level as well as with the city. The governor decided to fund the needed improvements for the UMS center here with a $13.5 million bond bill dedicated to the project instead of using funds from the state budget and the Legislature supported that effort.

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Thus the funds needed had no effect on the state's financial condition, the state Board of Public Works awarded the contract to Whiting Turner and the project is on schedule. In addition, the city was faced with a $2.0 million budget deficit and found it necessary to not fill six management level positions. The city was also forced to make other reductions and faced escalating costs of which employee health insurance was a major concern. We were also faced with four labor contracts that had expired or were due to expire. In view of staffing needs, it was determined that Mr. Budesky's services were needed to assist city management and operations. Since my meeting with GHC our work load had changed considerably.

We do completely understand that the university project is of the upmost importance and have devoted much effort to making sure that we are doing every thing possible to insure that it becomes a reality. City Engineer Rodney Tissue works with the university staff and their contractor to handle all necessary details involved in the construction. He also has the responsibility of handling the demolition of McCrory's and the Grand Piano warehouse for the adjoining Open Space Project.

Planning Director Kathy Maher is responsible for acquiring the State Community Legacy grants and handling the details and design of the Open Space Project. Maher has involved the University officials in that phase of the project. From all reports, both are doing a more than adequate job.

At the same time, city employees such as Finance Director Al Martin, who is an involved alumnus of Frostburg University and takes every opportunity to be present at functions where Frostburg University President Catherine Gira might be in attendance. Gira chairs the meetings of all University System presidents and therefore, is in a position to know what is happening on the University level. On another occasion, we had an opportunity to talk to William E. Kirwan, Chancellor of the University Systems, who has repeatedly said that the Hagerstown Campus has his full support and that it will be completed.

In a memo to the Hagerstown Steering Committee, Kirwan, wrote that "The Board of Regents and I remain strongly committed to expanding educational opportunities through our USM regional centers and in particular, launching the new University of Maryland Hagerstown Educational Center."

As was recently reported on the editorial page, Ms. Gertrude Eaton Ph.D. Associate Vice Chancellor recently visited Hagerstown and outlined educational programs to be offered here. These are just a few of the things that are taking place. One of the individuals who helped to marshal the funding for the construction of the University was state Sen. Don Munson, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee which played a significant role in granting the approvals. You will remember that he sacrificed his principles on an unrelated issue in exchange for the committee chair's support of the University Bond Bill. And just as important, Sen. Munson has kept me informed of what was happening with the project as it passed through the legislative process and made us aware of when and what we needed to do in support.

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