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Hagerstown invites BOE to 'be my neighbor' in State of the City address

March 05, 2013|By HOLLY SHOK |
  • Hagerstown Mayor David S. Gysberts speaks Tuesday morning during the annual State of the City address.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Hagerstown City Council’s efforts to convince the Washington County Board of Education into relocating downtown were stepped up Tuesday morning during the State of the City address.

A proposed site for the BOE’s central office on West Washington Street, along with renderings of the structure, and a takeoff on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” were included in the city’s video presentation.

With an eye toward the future of Hagerstown, including information on downtown redevelopment and a multiuse stadium as well as the BOE offices, Mayor David S. Gysberts delivered the annual address at the event, hosted by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

About 150 community members were on hand for the address.

Set to the tune of children’s television series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a video “invitation,” which announced the BOE site proposal, featured downtown business and community members asking the BOE “won’t you be my neighbor?”

The West Washington Street site was originally one among 12 contenders suggested by a Greater Hagerstown Committee task force that narrowed the search field to four of the highest-ranking locales.

“I think for all of us on the council, it just makes sense to have all of the government agencies located in the county seat proximal to one another around all the other services, it creates and builds on that critical mass that we already have in the center of Hagerstown,” Gysberts said Tuesday regarding the city’s hopes that the BOE will relocate to the downtown hub.

In exploring relocation of its headquarters, the BOE in February entered into a purchase agreement for the Allegheny Energy property, hours after hearing a pitch for a downtown location from the mayor and city council.

The school system has a 45- to 78-day window, which commenced Feb. 20, to consider the Allegheny Energy property with its $5.5 million purchase price. 

School board President Justin Hartings said he had some idea another pitch would be made by the city Tuesday, but he had not anticipated the extent of the presentation or number of community members involved.

“I think Greater Hagerstown has given us a pretty good idea of the ballpark of what the absolute costs downtown would be ... we don’t have a number for Allegheny Energy yet, because we really don’t know what it would take to get that building in a condition where we could move into it,” Hartings said after the event.

The city’s task force previously had quoted the cost for a downtown BOE site as ranging from $16.8 million to $18.25 million, totaling construction and estimates for land acquisition and demolition.

“I think the benefits of being downtown that they articulate very well and very persuasively is a part of our decision-making process, but it’s hard to evaluate that in a vacuum without knowing what the dollar amounts are going to be on the other side,” Hartings said, noting the Allegheny Energy Property comes attached to enough land to accommodate a new elementary school.

While the future of Hagerstown consumed much of the mayor’s address, which fell on the 100th day of the Hagerstown City Council’s new administration, a nearly 20-minute video highlighted the advancements the city has seen in 2012, including the use of automated speed cameras in various school zones that have been effective in reducing speeders by 80 to 90 percent in some areas; a single-stream refuse and recycling program aimed at increasing participation in citywide recycling; and the completion of an extensive downtown parking plan study.

“The state of our city is strong, we are fundamentally and fiscally sound and we are full of opportunity and potential for economic development and growth,” Gysberts said. “We face challenges that many cities face, but we have had many successes.”

Before addressing the ongoing discussion of constructing a multiuse sports and events center, Gysberts reminded those in attendance that he possesses a “gavel and not a magic wand.”

Noting the need for public-private partnerships to tackle the costs of the unfunded project, sites for which are currently being studied by Ripken Design, Gysberts said a decision will be made by the end of April as to if and where a stadium will be constructed.

A question and answer segment, featuring the mayor and five-member council, concluded the address with council members providing differing opinions on some of the city’s hot topics, including the location of the proposed stadium.

“If you’re going to spend that amount of money, it belongs downtown,” Councilman Martin E. Brubaker said of the stadium project.
Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh, however, said the stadium should be resurrected in the city’s East End, citing downtown’s biggest “jewel” as The Maryland Theatre.

In an interview after his address, Gysberts said he believes the largest challenge the city faces is a negative perception.

“We’re a diverse community, we’ve got a lot to offer with a lot of potential. We’re creating that visible change to attract people to come downtown. We have more events than ever that are attracting more people than ever. So the challenge is just to keep the positive momentum, to give people that sense of civic pride and to invest and to keep investing in infrastructure improvements that will make us better in the future,” Gysberts said.

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