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Moving new senior center to different site means funding loss

December 25, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • The county agreed in November to buy a former U.S. Army Reserve building from the City of Hagerstown for $625,000 to become the site of a new senior citizens center.
File photo

Washington County is losing two outside funding sources — more than $1 million — by abandoning plans to build a senior citizens’ center on the Hagerstown Community College campus.

The Maryland Department of Aging had promised the county $800,000.

Another $250,000 would have come from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

Both grants were contingent on a senior center being built at HCC, County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said.

At the start of 2012, after ruling out other sites, county officials were focused on placing a new senior center on the college campus.

But after rejecting an initial set of bids that exceeded the budget and growing concerned about rising costs during a second round, the county commissioners finally ruled out HCC.

Instead, a former U.S. Army Reserve building in Hagerstown became the favored site.

The county agreed in November to buy that property from the City of Hagerstown for $625,000.

Money for the purchase will come from a $677,124 federal Community Development Block Grant.

By shifting to the former Reserve building, the county probably will spend about half as much as expected on the project, according to Murray.

At HCC, the project was approaching about $7 million. Early estimates at the Reserve building are about $3.5 million, Murray said.

So far, the county has more than enough money lined up to cover it.

Murray said $2,646,300 will be cash from the county’s general fund. Another $2,233,100 will come from general-fund borrowing.

There also is $47,300 in excise-tax money.

That would mean extra money, should the commissioners want to add other features or amenities, such as a pool, Murray said.

He said the county knew that the Department of Aging and Weinberg Foundation money wouldn’t be available if the project changed directions from HCC.

Donna Smith, a spokeswoman for the Department of Aging, said her department heard from Susan J. MacDonald, the executive director of the Washington County Commission on Aging, on Nov. 7 — one day after the commissioners rejected the second round of bids at HCC and agreed to start over.

The $800,000 was in the state’s fiscal year 2013 capital budget.

In 2011, the county expected to get $600,000 through the Department of Aging by picking up funding that another jurisdiction no longer needed. But the award didn’t go through the standard budget process and was pulled back before Washington County received it.

Murray said the county could reapply for similar state funding, but it took so long to get the money the first time, that’s not likely.

The county has a better chance at reapplying for and receiving a Weinberg Foundation grant, he said.

Hagerstown’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously Dec. 19 to grant a special exception for the site to be used as a community or senior activities center, a necessary step attached to the sale of the property.

Murray said the board will have up to 30 days to write its decision.

According to the City of Hagerstown’s website, decisions of the board of zoning appeals may be appealed to Washington County Circuit Court within 30 days of the board’s decision.

After procedural hurdles have been cleared, the county will issue a request for proposal before moving ahead with architectural, engineering and design work, Murray said.

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