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PenMar's largest tenant looking for new landlord

May 06, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Saying a future at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base "doesn't look promising," the base's largest tenant is looking for a new site for the masonry training center, the school's spokeswoman said Wednesday.

International Masonry Institute spokeswoman Hazel Bradford said it's not definite that the school will move, but it has begun looking for land in Maryland and Pennsylvania for a relocation and expansion.

IMI has been waiting since the late 1990s to expand its National Training Center at the former base, a $15 million to $16 million project that would create 200 jobs, IMI officials have said.

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But legal problems have delayed the project, preventing IMI from purchasing the 26.3 acres it has said it wants for the expansion.

IMI leases property at the former base from the PenMar Development Corp., the agency created by the state in 1997 to redevelop Fort Ritchie.

The Army closed the base in 1998.

Conveyance of all base property from the Army to PenMar is on hold because of a court injunction issued in February 2003. A U.S. Court of Appeals judge found that PenMar violated legal requirements because an advertisement announcing the property's availability was faulty.

Proposed federal legislation that would have hastened the conveyance was killed late last year, after it didn't gain the support of U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett.

"There hasn't been any progress with PenMar and Fort Ritchie," IMI's Bradford said. "Nothing's moving."

"What we are doing is talking to possible sites ...," she said.

Late last year, PenMar Executive Director Richard Rook said the land transfer might be accomplished by March of this year, but that wasn't the case.

PenMar board Chairman Ron Sulchek said Wednesday that IMI has been a patient tenant, but the court injunction is out of PenMar's hands.

"We all feel bad that we're not able to (transfer) the property to them," Sulchek said.

"We just don't have a date that can be given to them," Washington County Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said.

Wivell, who is a PenMar board member, said he thinks the delay has affected the masonry institute's desire to stay at the site.

"I can't say that I blame them," Wivell said.

IMI officials have said the expansion would allow the school to provide additional training programs to up to 158 students at a time or about 2,000 a year.

The project calls for a 45,000-square-foot dormitory/dining/conference center and a 16,000-square-foot building to house classrooms, a design studio and administrative offices.

As of late last year, the center had 33 full-time workers and an annual payroll of $1.8 million.

The center trains up to 70 bricklayers and craftworkers from across the United States and Canada at a time and sends 700 to 800 trainees a year back into the work force with polished skills and guaranteed jobs through their local unions, IMI officials have said.

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