State selects W. Md. campus

Glendening adds site in Hagerstown to University System

In line with Smart Growth

Downtown location goes against wishes of county, university

November 25, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening moved yesterday to inject new life into ailing downtown Hagerstown, announcing that the state will locate the University System of Maryland's new Washington County campus in the heart of the city's business district.

The governor said he hopes his decision, which goes against the publicly expressed wishes of county and university officials, sends a strong statewide message that he will enforce his Smart Growth policies favoring redevelopment in existing urban centers.

In choosing to spend $11.7 million to renovate the Baldwin-Routzhan building on Washington Street, Glendening rejected two sites that would have required construction on undeveloped land outside the city. One is owned by Allegheny Power off Interstate 70; the other is adjacent to Hagerstown Community College.

The governor, who said all along that he had a "predisposition" to spend state money in the central city, brushed aside objections that the downtown site lacks adequate parking and security.

"If we don't have faith in downtown, who will?" Glendening said in an interview. "People should understand that I'm serious about Smart Growth and stopping sprawl."

The Hagerstown decision is the latest of several controversial actions the governor has taken under the banner of Smart Growth. Those include canceling plans for a new police training center in Sykesville and eliminating several bypass routes from state transportation plans.

The university center, a project long sought by civic leaders, is viewed as an important economic resource for Washington County, which has no other four-year colleges within its borders.

Any of the 13 institutions in the University System of Maryland will be able to offer graduate and undergraduate courses at the center, which is expected to draw 1,240 students. The only higher education in Washington County beyond the community college level is offered by Frostburg State University, which gives courses at a downtown Hagerstown facility that serves about 200 students.

University System officials, who were known to favor the site near I-70, envisioned a center modeled after a suburban-style campus at Shady Grove in Montgomery County. That started in 1981 with 246 students and now has more than 12,000 enrolled in courses offered by six of the system's institutions.

Glendening said yesterday that he would put the Hagerstown project on the fast track by including money in next year's budget for planning, design and construction.

Some opponents of the downtown site were philosophical in defeat.

"When the governor says that this is where it's going to go, he's the one with the money," said Gregory I. Snook, president of the county commissioners.

The governor's action drew praise from advocates for cities and the environment.

Dru Schmidt-Perkins, who heads the environmental group 1,000 Friends of Maryland, said the decision was "terrific." She said it sends a clear signal to state agencies and county officials that the state is serious about Smart Growth principles.

"It sends a broad message that `downtown is the right place' after years of `downtown is the wrong place,' " Schmidt-Perkins said.

Scott Hancock, executive director of the Maryland Municipal League, said local officials all over the state had been waiting for the governor's decision.

"This decision certainly will go a long way to lending encouragement to cities and towns that the governor intends to stick by his guns and do the right thing and not just the right political thing," Hancock said.

The governor made his choice after touring two of the sites -- the downtown location and the Allegheny Power parcel -- in September.

At the time, most of the local power structure had lined up behind the Allegheny site, including the Washington County commissioners, business leaders and most of the county's legislative delegation.

After cost estimates started coming in higher than expected for that site, local leaders began switching their support to the community college location.

During his visit, Glendening heard a strong pitch for the downtown site from city officials led by Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II. They insisted that it offered ample parking for students, who would be using the campus primarily at night.

In explaining his decision, Glendening adopted nearly all the arguments made by city officials. He cited the downtown area's existing infrastructure and public transportation, as well as the city's offer to donate the former hotel building. The governor also said construction at the largely wooded community college site could have an adverse environmental impact.

Bruchey, a Republican, predicted the campus would encourage revitalization and attract visitors to the downtown area of this historic industrial city of 35,000.

"It will give people interest in coming back to visit some of our restaurants and some of our shops," the mayor said.

The downtown site was not the favorite of University System officials. Earlier this year, Chancellor Donald N. genberg expressed doubts about whether the project would go forward if that site were chosen.

But Langenberg quickly fell into line yesterday behind the governor's choice.

"The site offers everything we need to create a first-rate learning environment while offering savings to taxpayers and helping revitalize downtown Hagerstown," he said in a statement released by the governor's press office.

The chancellor could not be reached for further comment.

Sun staff writer Michael Hill contributed to this article.

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