Hagerstown officials again consider demolishing old electric plant

August 06, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE |
  • The Hagerstown City Council is expected to discuss today the fate of the former Municipal Electric Light Plant on Eastern Boulevard in Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — The scrap-metal market has fluctuated in recent years, holding up the City of Hagerstown’s efforts to find a way to finance the demolition of the former Municipal Electric Light Plant on Eastern Boulevard, according to city officials.

The cost of demolition, coupled with budget restraints, have also factored into failed attempts to strike a deal to raze the MELP plant across from Municipal Stadium, which has become an eyesore since it was shut down in the 1970s, city officials have said.

Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said last week that officials have begun actively talking about demolishing the building once again.

Metzner said at one time, officials believed that selling the scrap material inside the building would have paid for the demolition. But since then, he said, the scrap market has taken a “real nose dive.”

“When you talk about the amount of tonnage that’s in there, every time the scrap market takes a dive, it frightens people,” he said.

In a previous deal that fell through, the city agreed to put up a little less than $1 million toward the demolition, which could cost up to $5 million, Metzner said.

Metzner said a city public facilities bond issue for the upcoming year would include money to go toward taking down the building, which has been privately owned since 1996.

Documents released Friday indicate city staff members propose earmarking $250,000 in bond financing for the demolition, site work and purchase of the 2.96-acre MELP property. Staff members also propose using $500,000 in Capital Improvement Program funds, bringing the city’s potential contribution for buying and leveling the structure to $750,000.

“We were planning on partially financing it through a bond issue, and since we’re going to do this bond issue, we want to include it in there now so that if we can come to an agreement, (we can) get it taken down. We have the money available to do that,” Metzner said.

The five-member city council will discuss the matter, along with other proposed projects to be paid through the sale of bonds, during its work session Tuesday, starting at 4 p.m.

Calling it a “very, very frustrating situation,” Metzner said city officials were told in 2008 — when a chain-link fence with barbed wire was installed around the condemned building that contains asbestos — that demolition could cost $3 million to $5 million.

“It’s like trying to hit a moving target that every time you think you have it in your sights, it moves,” he said. “We thought about a month ago we were very, very close to signing an agreement (with a demolition company). It’s all centered around money, and centers around people agreeing to appropriately share expenses.”

Once the building is leveled, Metzner said it’s the city’s hope that the land eventually could be turned into a park or economic development space.

Tuesday would mark the first time the issue has been discussed publicly in some time, but city officials have had conversations with the owners over the past year, said John Lestitian, the city’s director of community and economic development.

Lestitian said those conversations have been “productive,” but “it’s a complex situation.”

When reached for comment Friday, the property’s current owner, David Harshman of Partners Marketing LLP, based in Staunton, Va., said his attorneys have been working on the framework of a deal to demolish the building, but said it’s difficult for both sides to find common ground in which one doesn’t stand to lose more money than the other in the process.

“It’s just not a good situation,” he said, adding that it was impossible for everybody involved to be a winner. “The issue is, somebody is going to lose.”

Partners Marketing in 1996 purchased the property for $250,000 from Hagerstown Fiber & Light Limited Partnership, which was given the property by the city two years before that.

The building was constructed in the late 1920s as a coal-fired electric power plant to replace a much smaller station on Memorial Boulevard that supplied Hagerstown with power, city Director of Utilities Michael Spiker wrote in an email.

It was expanded in the 1930s and then doubled in size in the 1950s, before air-quality regulations and other issues factored into it being shut down in the 1970s, he said.

A 1982 Herald-Mail story pinpoints 1972 as the year the plant last generated electricity for the city.

After it was shut down, the city began purchasing bulk electricity from Potomac Edison, Spiker wrote.

When it purchased the building, Partners Marketing proposed turning the facility into a steam-generating station to heat the former Washington County Hospital, among other uses, but those plans fell through.

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