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Hagerstown to spend $40,000 to fix up Alms House

September 24, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN -- The city is proceeding with plans to fix up the deteriorating Alms House at 239 N. Locust St., but is moving gingerly in seeking a landmark designation.

The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday agreed to spend $40,000 to correct code violations on the property, which the city owns.

Half of the money would come from a property maintenance fund and half from a 2008-09 general fund contingency account.

The council agreed to cautiously consider a proposal to seek a landmark designation for the property.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the city, by obtaining a landmark designation, might be handing over control of the property to an outside agency.

No one specified during the meeting what type of landmark status the city might pursue, but Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said later that he thought it would be a federal designation.

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The building dates to the late 18th century and was a hospital during the Civil War.

The city council has talked about either saving the building or tearing it down.

On Tuesday, there was a good deal of support for preservation.

During a public comment period, Mary Haines of Laurel Street spoke passionately in favor of treating the building as a hallowed site.

Referring to the bodies of Civil War soldiers said to be there, she urged the city to "venerate the remains of the dead."

Haines said the Alms House building has historical tourism appeal, particularly with the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War coming up in 2011.

Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean said the city needs to devise a plan to save the historical building and figure out what it can become.

The council unanimously agreed to spend money to correct code violations and have city staff look into public-private partnership opportunities.

A proposal for city staff to "complete" the local landmark designation process was amended to "initiate," leaving room for more deliberation.

Bruchey said the landmark designation could impose standards on how the building is maintained and some might be costly.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer voted in favor of the wording change, but said the landmark process takes several months, so the current council should act instead of gambling on whether the next council will feel the same way. The next city council election is in 2009.

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