Acreage, zoning attracted university to Downsville Pike

August 28, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Available space and proper zoning were the two primary reasons why officials of an India-based university chose to open their first American campus in Hagerstown, according to a representative of the university.

Selvin Kumar, a representative of Vinayaka Missions America University, said Tuesday that the school began looking for a site in the U.S. last year, but had trouble finding enough acreage for a university.

Kumar, who lives in Solomons, Md., contacted Glen Burnie, Md.-based real estate agent Syd Machat, who told him about the building in the Friendship Technology Park on Downsville Pike.

The existing building and surrounding 45-acre site are zoned to allow an educational facility.

"When we started looking, (Machat) told me it might take two to three years," Kumar said. "It took four days."

Vinayaka Missions finalized the $8.5 million purchase on Tuesday.

Timothy R. Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, said Wednesday that Vinayaka Missions had not applied for any economic development grants from the county or state.


Troxell also said Friendship Technology Park is not in an enterprise zone, so Vinayaka Missions will receive no tax breaks for purchasing the property.

More than $80,000 in property taxes are due on the property in fiscal 2009, according to the Washington County Treasurer's Department Web site.

"We're excited really because we think the availability of additional educational opportunities for the citizens of Washington County is a good thing," Troxell said.

During a press conference Tuesday, Kumar and other Vinayaka Missions officials announced their plans to open a university and possibly a hospital in the former Allegheny Energy headquarters building.

The building and surrounding acreage are in an Office, Research and Technology zone, which allows a wide variety of uses, including educational and medical facilities.

Vinayaka Missions officials said Tuesday they plan to open a university that would offer bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees, as well as a hospital and trauma center.

To open a hospital, Vinayaka Missions would have to obtain a Certificate of Need from the Maryland Health Care Commission.

To start a university, Vinayaka Missions would have to get approval from the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC), a coordinating board responsible for establishing statewide policies for private and public colleges, universities and career schools.

That approval could take anywhere from 60 to 180 days or more, said George W. Reid, assistant secretary for planning and academic affairs for the MHEC.

Reid said the MHEC would evaluate the need for a university in the area, looking at other educational institutions and the local population, among other things.

After the university submitted an application, that application would be circulated to universities, colleges and education officials across the state, who would have 30 days to comment on the proposal.

The university then would have time to respond to any objections.

"At some point or another, we would determine if there is a need for a university in the area," Reid said.

To be accredited, Vinayaka would have to apply to the U.S. Department of Education. Reid said the MHEC also would observe that process.

Kumar said Vinayaka Missions hopes to start some classes in October.

Those classes would be informal, noncredit courses. Kumar said anyone who is interested in teaching a class at the facility can propose one.

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