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The College of Southern Maryland is going to be building a fourth campus in Hughesville. This is good news for CSM students in St. Mary’s County, who now must travel to Waldorf for classes at the Center for Trades and Energy, and to La Plata for the second year of classes to be trained as nurses or other health-care workers.

Plans call for these community college programs to be offered at the new Hughesville campus. A new fine arts center and new athletic field could also be located there eventually.

The news could have been better for St. Mary’s County. The campus could have been located in Charlotte Hall. This would have been just a bit closer for St. Mary’s students, but would also have been a focal point for that growing area that would have benefitted the business community there.

The college was considering sites in Charlotte Hall. The St. Mary’s County government, however, fumbled away that opportunity.

First, St. Mary’s County Commissioner Larry Jarboe submitted a bid to sell his own property to the college. This even though the college depends on the county commissioners to appropriate funds for its operation and the commissioners could have been asked to help pay for the land. The college wisely steered clear of Jarboe’s offer.

Then the commissioners killed plans to build a sewer line in Charlotte Hall, which would have made sites in the area more attractive and affordable to the college.

Then some of the commissioners said they didn’t want the college to locate in St. Mary’s anyway because they might have to help pay, along with the state, to build it. Some of them also complained that the college proposal was emerging at a time when the county government was not making budget plans and so couldn’t be addressed, and that CSM officials hadn’t sufficiently courted the commissioners to agree to locate a campus in their county.

After Jarboe’s offer to sell his parcel became public, he then said that Charlotte Hall is a community of senior citizens that really is not compatible with a college campus. It’s unclear what kind of wild shenanigans he thinks nursing students, who commute to class, might be planning that would disturb the peace of Charlotte Hall.

So there you have it. Our community’s local leaders didn’t just fail to do their best to bring a new center for higher education to St. Mary’s County, they actively discouraged it.

In the end, CSM officials made the best decision for the college, and secured 50 acres just off the Hughesville bypass for $770,000, far less than the Charlotte Hall sites that were offered up. And the Charles County commissioners were united in offering their cooperation and in trying to persuade CSM to locate in their county.

But the St. Mary’s County commissioners are going to have to do better than this. The cascade of federal defense money is drying up, as the sequestration cutbacks due to begin this week make clear. Our local government can no longer sit back and do nothing while depending on Patuxent River Naval Air Station to bring prosperity to St. Mary’s.

Sequestration aside, the federal budget reality is that those days are over. St. Mary’s needs to invest in strategies to diversify its economy, and that includes educating and training a workforce that can attract that diversity.

The next time an opportunity to do that comes up, the commissioners need to grab it.