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Ruling brings PenMar closer to sale

July 17, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

CASCADE - The founder of a military-style school for high school dropouts that once operated at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base lost a bid to own part of the property.

The U.S. Department of Education ruled last week that Role Models America, owned by Robert Alexander, didn't qualify for a Public Benefit Conveyance of the land, PenMar Development Corp. Executive Director Rich Rook said.

The action paves the way for the Army to request that a U.S. Court of Appeals injunction barring the transfer of the base to PenMar be lifted, Rook said.

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"That's great news for us," Rook said.

PenMar is in the process of negotiating a sale of the former base to Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md., but it first must acquire the base from the Army.

Base Transition Coordinator William Spigler said it could be next year before the Army transfers the land to PenMar.

Spigler estimated it would be fall before the Army asks a judge to lift the injunction, giving the Army time to prepare its case. The Army then must wait for the judge's ruling.

"That takes us probably into next year," Spigler said.

Spigler also said PenMar hasn't approached the Army yet with its intention to sell the base.

"I've not met anybody from COPT," Spigler said. "That's reasonable because they don't have all the details worked out."

Department of Education spokesman Jim Bradshaw said in a written statement that Role Models' application didn't meet federal regulations because the school lacked the money to renovate the property or operate the program.

He did not return a phone call Thursday.

PenMar has been waiting for the Army to transfer the 636-acre former base since the agency was created by the state to redevelop the property.

Role Models requested the federal conveyance to reopen a boot camp-style academy at the base.

Under federal guidelines, the military may transfer surplus base properties in conjunction with other federal agencies for uses such as schools, parks and prisons.

Role Models opened at the base in 2000, but the program terminated when PenMar evicted Role Models in July 2002. PenMar claimed Role Models owed about $400,000 in rent and utility costs.

Alexander's lawyer, Donald Temple of Washington, D.C., was out of his office this week and could not be reached for comment.

Role Models filed for the injunction in U.S. Court of Appeals more than a year ago, saying it wasn't notified that property at the former base was available to it for no charge under the Public Benefit Conveyance.

The court ruled that PenMar violated legal requirements because an advertisement announcing the property's availability was faulty.

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