Reconsidering the Telemecanique Site

August 25, 1994

Before the Carroll County commissioners decide whether to acquire the former Telemecanique plant for the school administration headquarters, they should answer this question: Do they want key county departments dispersed all over the countryside or concentrated in Westminster?

Since the commissioners decided not to relocate the education department in portable buildings, they have been considering placing county government's largest bureaucracy in the vacated electronics manufacturing plant, located on Bethel Road about six miles from the county office building. With the discovery of organic chemicals in well water at the site, the commissioners have put off a decision until they receive definitive answers on the extent and seriousness of the contamination.

Computers and fax machines have made it less important to keep government departments in close proximity. With the expected advances in video conferencing, digital communication and interactive computers, the need for people to meet face-to-face will likely diminish even more.

However, from an overall planning perspective, it might be beneficial for the county to keep government offices in an urban setting. Maintaining the education headquarters in the county seat would be a clear signal the county government is complying with the master plan, which calls for clustering development where it is already located. Keeping nearly 300 employees near downtown Westminster would also assist the city's nascent revitalization efforts. Moreover, even though there are no industrial customers currently interested in the Telemecanique site it doesn't make any sense to remove a large industrially zoned parcel from the tax rolls.

The commissioners would like to find an inexpensive solution to housing the education department. They would also like to centralize operations that have been scattered to some half-dozen sites.

While no existing -- and empty -- office space capable of accommodating all the education personnel seems to exist within Westminster, the commissioners should take another look alternatives to the Telemecanique building. In the end, it may prove the best choice, but given its environmental problems and location, other options within Westminster need to be fully explored.

Tomorrow: Endorsements for commissioner

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