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Commissioners agree to buy former Army Reserve building for senior center

Panel voted 4-1 in favor of buying 21 Willard St. in Hagerstown for $625,000

November 27, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County Administrator Gregory B. Murray speaks Tuesday during a Washington County Commission meeting.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

Washington County on Tuesday took another step toward creating a senior citizens’ center at a former U.S. Army Reserves building in Hagerstown.

The county commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of buying 21 Willard St. in Hagerstown, the site of a former U.S. Army Reserves center, for $625,000.

The property would be used as a county senior citizens’ center.

The transaction depends on the city of Hagerstown, which owns the property, giving final approval to the sale.

The outgoing Hagerstown City Council voted on Nov. 13 to preliminarily approve the sale.

The new council, which was sworn in this week, must take a final vote on the transaction. That’s expected to happen on Dec. 4.

A second contingency is attached to the sale: The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals must approve a special exception for a community center at the site.

Washington County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said Tuesday that the county has until Wednesday to request to get on the zoning appeals board’s Dec. 19 agenda.

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For months, the county focused on the Hagerstown Community College campus as its chosen site for a senior citizens’ center.

Recently, though, some commissioners balked as the potential cost of the project rose. Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said contingency costs could boost the final expense to as much as $7.5 million.

The former Reserve building was considered early in the site-selection process, then ruled out.

The Reserve building, which is no longer used, re-emerged as a possibility when the commissioners rejected a low bid for construction and the HCC plan crumbled.

County officials expect the cost of a senior citizens’ center on Willard Street — off Jefferson Boulevard, near the city’s Hagerstown Greens at Hamilton Run golf course — to be much lower than it would have been for a new building at HCC.

Terry L. Baker, the president of the commissioners, voted against the purchase on Tuesday.

He criticized the fact that the county has no firm idea of how much a senior center there would cost.

Callaham spoke in favor of the Reserves property. “It’s not a Taj Mahal, but it’s a good, serviceable building,” she said.

Baker also said there should have been more discussion and review of the property, including an environmental report.

According to Murray, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers prepared a report that says there is asbestos in the building in 17 locations. But they are in spots, such as under floor tiles, that would be replaced during a renovation, he said.

The report also says there are 10 places on the property with lead paint, Murray said.

A looming deadline left the county pressed to move ahead if it wanted to claim a $677,124 federal Community Development Block Grant.

That money, which is administered through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, is only available until Dec. 31.

State assessment records show that the building and the 4.6 acres upon which it sits are valued at $2.03 million. The land alone is valued at $684,000.

A temporary senior center has been operating at Girls Inc. on Washington Avenue, the home of an after-school program for girls, since September 2008.

The Washington County Commission on Aging has announced it will move the senior center to Western Maryland Hospital Center by the time the current fiscal year ends on June 30, 2013.

On Tuesday, Richard Gruber of Hagerstown — who has criticized the scope and cost of the senior center project at HCC — told the commissioners that it makes more sense to improve the Girls Inc. building, to accommodate both senior citizens and girls, than to build a new center.

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