Officials eye building for school offices

January 31, 1995|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

~TC Westminster officials say they have an idea that could provide office space for the county's school administration and the Circuit Court, as well as a user for a prime site in the city's downtown business district.

The plan involves a three-way swap that would bring a new high-rise building for school administrative offices to the former Farmers Supply Co. property at Liberty and West Green streets.

A school board office building on the former Farmers Supply Co. site "is one of the types of development we'd like to have, one we would welcome," said Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan. He asked the Carroll County commissioners last week to meet with city officials to discuss available properties.

The commissioners have tabled a longtime plan to lease space for the school system in the vacant Telemecanique plant on Bethel Road in Reese after learning that an industrial company is interested in the building.

School officials have for years sought a larger building that would allow them to unite services now scattered in offices around the county.

Officials refused to provide details, but Commissioner Richard T. Yates described the prospective tenant in a December letter to Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. as "a major employer."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said that if the industrial prospect takes the Telemecanique building, "Then I think we'll get serious about asking the staff for some recommendations" for school offices.

He said county officials hope for a decision from the industry within two months.

Glenn Bair, president of the company that owns the Telemecanique plant, did not return phone calls.

In the meantime, Judge Beck is continuing his 2-year-old effort to get the space occupied by the Board of Education in the south wing of the Courthouse Annex on North Court Street. He has requested a meeting and courthouse tour with the commissioners.

"The thing that concerns Judge Beck and that he's presented to the planning commission is that we're sitting here needing the space and there just aren't any contingency plans," said Court Administrator Bobbie Erb.

Westminster Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr., who sees the Farmers Supply Co. property as key to downtown revitalization, also would like to keep the Board of Education in Westminster.

Louis B. Scharon, the real estate broker marketing the property for Farmers Supply stockholders, welcomed the initiative, but said a private buyer is now "definitely interested" in the property. He said he couldn't disclose details, but the prospective buyer is not a "gas and go" station, a use that city officials have feared.

Vernon F. Smith, director of school support services, said he was unaware of the Farmers Supply Co. idea. He said the school board was happy with the Telemecanique proposal, but would probably support an acceptable alternative.

"Ideas are being bantered around, but we've been here before," Mr. Smith said.

A 1994 market analysis for the city identified the Farmers Supply property as a key downtown building. "This valuable property would be an ideal location for a quality housing development or office complex . . .," the study said.

The .9-acre site is priced at $595,000 and includes the tractor store, several sheds and an old stone building that formerly housed a restaurant.

Permission to raze the buildings should be no problem, Mr. Yowan said. "I'm very confident that if the right development would come in there, the city would be glad to give that approval," he said.

Mr. Dell suggested that the county might lease a privately owned office building. "We don't have the money to build a new building right now," he said.

Steven D. Powell, county management and budget director, said he had developed preliminary options for housing the school offices as part of the county annual capital budget review, "but these are not full-blown studies."

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