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Bank building eyed for USM-H

January 07, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN -- State and county officials have discussed acquiring the Susquehanna Bank building on West Washington Street as a site for future expansion of the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown campus, Washington County Commissioners President John F. Barr said.

The four-story building, at 55-59 W. Washington St., has been on the market since the bank decided to move to a new building on Dual Highway.

Barr said he and state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, met with bank officials in late November or early December to talk about the idea.

"It was strictly inquiry," Barr said.

Munson said the state has its eye on the building because it would provide a way for USM-H to expand without moving out of downtown.

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Unfortunately, Munson said, this would be a very difficult time for the state to buy the building. The bank is asking $1.8 million, and the state is struggling to close a $415 million budget gap and faces a $2 billion deficit next fiscal year.

Barr and Munson said they talked about other possibilities for acquiring the building.

"It would be nice if the building could be used for multiple purposes," Munson said, listing the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, the Washington County Board of Education and other county offices as potential users of the building.

The county might not be in much of a financial position to purchase the building, either, once the state budget shortfall reaches the county level, Munson said.

"It would be prudent, before moving very fast on this, to see what's going to happen to the counties during the (legislative) session," he said.

At the same time, Munson said, it is important for elected officials to keep the future of the university system and the downtown in mind.

The establishment of USM-H in the former Baldwin House complex at 32 W. Washington St. in 2005 contributed greatly to the economic revival of downtown Hagerstown, Munson said. Now, in the evenings when most classes are held, the building is almost filled, he said.

"I believe that in the next several years, University (System) of Maryland Hagerstown is going to be highly successful and will grow, and will grow to the extent that more room is going to be needed than that one building," Munson said.

When that happens, if there is not a plan in place, Munson said he foresees one of three undesirable things happening. The campus might cap enrollment, which would be a disservice to the community, he said. It might move out of city to a place with sufficient land to build a campus, which could hurt downtown Hagerstown, he said. Or it might rent space "here and there and everywhere," presenting a disjointed image to potential students, he said.

"I think it behooves us to take a look at the potential for somehow acquiring that building," Munson said. "I don't know how that could be done at this point."

Munson said it would be helpful if Susquehanna offered a good deal in the interest of the local economy.

Susquehanna Bank spokesman Steve Trapnell said the bank was interested in discussion of any options that would lead to a good future use for the building.

"We're certainly looking for a strong, positive use for the building that will be beneficial to Hagerstown and the downtown area," he said.

The Susquehanna building is on a half-acre and has 26,000 square feet of space.

Susquehanna is moving much of its downtown operation to a building being built on the site of the former Red Horse Steak House & Anvil Bar on Dual Highway.

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