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India-based university buys former Allegheny Energy HQ

August 27, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The former Allegheny Energy headquarters on Downsville Pike has been purchased by a university based in India.

Vinayaka Missions America University Inc. finalized the purchase of the building and surrounding 45-acre site Tuesday for $8.5 million.

The university plans to open its first campus in the U.S. there, officials from the university announced at a press conference at the Washington County Administration Building hours after closing on the sale.

The purchase comes more than three years after the building was sold by Allegheny Energy.

Mark and Brad Fulton of AC&T bought the building, at 10435 Downsville Pike, from Allegheny Energy in May 2005 for $7.6 million, but had been unable to sell it until now.

Washington County government and Washington County Public Schools had shown interest in the building in the past, but ultimately decided it would require too much refurbishing, Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr said Tuesday.

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Barr congratulated Vinayaka on its purchase during the press conference.

"I'm very happy to see after several years of vacancy that the Fulton family has found another use for the facility," Barr said. "I hope it will spur interest in Friendship Technology Park and will bring added benefit to our community."

About 300 more acres are available for development at the office park, Barr said.

Chancellor A. Shanmugasundaram of Vinayaka draped the Washington County Commissioners, other county officials and the Fultons in Indian shawls and garlands during Tuesday's press conference.

"This is indeed a great pleasure," said A.S. Ganesan, the university's pro-chancellor. "America has been our dream, and today, that dream has been realized."

The university was founded in 1981 in Tamil Nadu, India. It currently operates 27 educational institutions with 20,000 full-time students and 40,000 distance education students, Ganesan said.

The university plans to offer credit and noncredit courses, including a nursing program, in Hagerstown.

University representative Selvin Kumar said the campus will offer noncredit courses starting in October.

Kumar said the university plans to follow with bachelor's degree programs before expanding to master's and doctorate programs.

Ganesan said he did not know how many students the university would draw, but said he hopes it will be "many, many students."

Vinayaka plans to invest $3.5 million in the building in the next year to update the building's facade, install new lights and repave the parking lot, according to a press release from the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Kumar said the university, which operates three hospitals in India, hopes to open a hospital and trauma center at the Downsville Pike property as well.

"We understand that would require regulatory approvals and such, but that would be a goal," Ganesan said.

In order to build a hospital, Vinayaka would have to get, among other things, a Certificate of Need from the Maryland Health Care Commission.

James Hamill, president and CEO of Washington County Health System, which is building a new hospital on Robinwood Drive, said he was not concerned about the university's desire to open a hospital.

"Right now, we want to welcome them to Hagerstown," said Hamill, who was at the press conference. "But I would love to sit down with them in the future and talk about their plans and our plans."

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