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Skeptical about HCC, Washington County Commissioners eye new site for senior center

October 23, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com

Apprehensive about the costs of building a senior citizen center at Hagerstown Community College, the Washington County Board of Commissioners is looking more closely at a former U.S. Army Reserve facility in Hagerstown.

The city of Hagerstown owns the former Reserve building at the corner of East Franklin and Willard streets, Eric Deike, the city’s public works manager, said earlier this year.

The commissioners have focused on the HCC site for a while.

After a first round of bids to build a center on the campus came in over budget, the county scaled back the project and solicited new bids.

The lowest base bid from the second round was $5.96 million, submitted by Roy C. Kline Contractors LLC of Smithsburg. With allowances and a unit price schedule, the contract cost increased to $6.38 million.

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Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said during a meeting two weeks ago that, with contingency costs, the project could grow to as much as $7.5 million.

On Oct. 10, the commissioners postponed their decision on the contract. They agreed on Tuesday to put off any action two more weeks.

For Tuesday’s discussion, Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth III was asked to present the latest possibilities for funding besides what already has been secured.

One option, he said, is additional money from the Weinberg Foundation, although it might be at least another month before that can be accomplished.

Another possibility is using $180,000 in surplus Program Open Space funding from the Devil’s Backbone Dam project.

Kroboth said the commissioners have until Jan. 17 to accept or reject the current low bid.

Commissioner William B. McKinley said he doesn’t support building a center at HCC if the cost is $7.5 million.

“I’m willing to go to 5 (million dollars),” Callaham said, “but I can’t go to 7 (million).”

Terry L. Baker, the president of the commissioners, added later that he thinks the county’s senior citizens are worth $7 million.

But he also balked at the current direction of the project at HCC, saying he wanted the Washington County Commission on Aging’s office to be part of that new building because of the estimated $1 million in rent it would save the county. The county now pays the commission’s rent for office space on West Franklin Street.

The commission’s office was included in an early plan for the senior center, when the building was to have two floors. But the scaled-down project has one floor, so the commission will continue renting office space on West Franklin Street.

The former U.S. Army Reserve building needs work because it has been closed for several years, but has “tremendous potential” and would save the county money on the project, Kroboth said.

That building, at about 19,000 square feet, is smaller than the originally planned senior center at HCC but a little larger than the scaled-down proposed building, he said.

Baker has suggested starting over on the project and having each commissioner appoint a senior citizen to a committee to work on a new plan.

On Tuesday, he recommended that the county approach the incoming — or remaining — mayor and city council of Hagerstown after the Nov. 6 election and getting the county and city to work together.

“They need to be substantial partners in this,” McKinley said.

The commissioners agreed to wait two weeks, then make a decision on accepting or rejecting the low bid on the construction contract.

Commissioner John F. Barr excused himself and left the room for the discussion, as he does each time the senior center comes up. His company, Ellsworth Electric, is a potential subcontractor on the project.

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