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Decide what's valuable before demolition looms

May 25, 2004

We've seen it happen many times over the years: A historic old house or property, taken for granted by the community for years, is suddenly threatened by development of some sort.

Then rallies are held and pleas are made. But all too often, like the Kammerer House, the 1774 Washington County structure demolished in 1999, by then it's too late.

Some will say that it's not possible to save everything. But it does make sense to decide -before there's an imminent threat - what should be saved.

So says Ed McMahon, director of land-use programs for the Arlington, Va.-based Conservation Fund. Last week McMahon spoke to an audience at the first Land Use Forum held in Franklin County, Pa.


Despite his group's name, McMahon said he believes that growth is both inevitable and desirable. But he said it doesn't have to be ugly or the same as what's being done in every other American town.

Fast-food franchises can adapt their architecture to the style that prevails in the town, McMahon said, or even re-use historic structures for their businesses.

As growth accelerates, cities and towns need not accept whatever developers offer. As part of the regulatory approval process, municipal governments can ask for development that's attractive instead of garish and buildings that look like something other than shoe boxes turned on their sides.

But McMahon's larger point is that to save those things about our communities that we find attractive, citizens need to speak up before someone decides there's a need to demolish that historic home or turn the farm at the town's edge into another townhouse development.

It's not as easy as deciding on a list of what to save, of course. Saving things will mean raising money, in some cases to purchase them, or finding grants to give their owners an incentive to add deed restrictions to preserve them.

But according to McMahon, starting now makes more sense than waiting until the bulldozers are turning up earth.

Education needs advocates

When the doors open next January at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, more than 500 students are expected to begin classes there, according to David Warner, the facility's executive director.

Warner said last week that up to eight degree-granting USM institutions may offer programs there by the summer of 2005.

To find students for those courses, Warner will be developing "paths" that will show local students how to go from high school to Hagerstown Community College and on to the USM center here.

With Warner's energy and his 21 years of experience at HCC, we're sure he'll do a fine job. But he can't do it alone. He's going to need some help, beginning with Washington County's families.

In 2004, we shouldn't have to say this, but we'll repeat it for anyone who hasn't heard it before: The world of work has changed, and in a major way.

Once it was possible for a high-school graduate to walk onto the factory floor, learn the job and make enough money to live comfortably.

That's no longer true. Companies want workers who are already trained, not only with specific skills, but in how to work together with a team on projects and common goals.

The parents of children now in high school ought to be talking to their children now about what they want to do, and how they'll accomplish it. Education and advanced training aren't cheap, but with some planning before it's time to pay the bills, scholarships and loans can be located.

We also urge local employers to take a look at which USM courses their employees - and the business - might benefit from.

The payoff in all this, in addition to an improved quality of life, will be an increase in the number of county residents with advanced degrees. That's a development that will attract employers with those sought-after high-tech jobs, not to mention raising the median income in Washington County.

But as we said earlier, it's up to parents and employers to encourage young people and workers not to let high school graduation be the end of their education.

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