- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The state has approved three priority funding areas for Hughesville, green lighting construction of a fourth College of Southern Maryland campus and a key step in ongoing efforts to revitalize the village’s downtown area.
The approved PFAs cover the land slated for the campus, the adjacent Hughesville Station commercial park and the Barns of Hughesville redevelopment project.
Getting the PFA — required in order for the campus to qualify for state funding — “was always the biggest hurdle, right from the start,” CSM President Brad Gottfried said.
The last step before the college can acquire the 70-acre site is a required boundary adjustment on the property. Gottfried said he expects the adjustment to be completed before the holidays, and the subsequent property purchase is “going to be my Christmas present.”
Given Hughesville’s central location within Southern Maryland, Gottfried said the college’s fourth campus will be the first to truly serve the entire region.
“Up to this point, we are a regional college, and we have a campus in all three counties, but this is the first venture into truly being a regional site,” he said. “Yes, it’s in one county, but it’s truly going to serve all three counties because it’s right in the center. I don’t see this as a win for the college so much as a win for Southern Maryland.”
The college’s current campuses are in La Plata, Prince Frederick and Leonardtown.
The college plans for the campus to comprise four buildings — first, the Center for Trade and Energy Training, which would move from its current Waldorf location, and then potentially a health sciences building, fine arts center and a fieldhouse or athletic fields.
“With an institution like that, it’s a big deal, and the PFA went a long way toward that,” said Ray Mertz, a local developer heading up the Hughesville Station project. “It’s a significant step forward towards a well-planned, well-thought out revitalization of Hughesville.”
“Best case,” the Center for Trade and Energy Training will be completed within a year, but “that’s a very aggressive time span,” Gottfried said.
Charles County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) hailed the approvals as a milestone in efforts to both build the campus and rejuvenate Hughesville. He expects students to be attending classes at the campus within a couple years.
“That in turn will help jump-start the Hughesville revitalization because there will be more people around to support the small stores we hope will go in there,” he said. “One goes hand-in-hand with the other, so we think this will not only put Hughesville back on the map but put Hughesville on the map in a way it never has before.”
Robinson also sees the campus as a potential host for future Charles County high school graduations, which beginning in 2015 will be held locally rather than at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro.
There had been some concern about whether an ongoing spat with the state concerning the county’s draft update to its 2006 comprehensive plan would hinder the PFA approvals, but local and state officials were happy to see the Maryland Department of Planning take up the matter separately.
“Obviously with everything that’s going on with the comp plan, there was some concern with what would happen,” Robinson said. “It is an example of how important it is to maintain relations at the state level.”
“When you look at this visioning plan that the businesses and citizens of Hughesville put together, it’s a wonderful business plan,” Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) said.
Middleton credited Robinson for getting “personally involved in this early on” and said the approval is indicative of “the short amount of time that it takes something this important to get done when everybody is lined up in support of it.”
“I’d like to see more of that in Charles County,” he said.
Having the PFAs approved ahead of the comprehensive plan “was a blessing because I don’t think [the plan’s] going to be agreed to anytime soon,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) said. During the 2012 redistricting process, Miller’s district was redrawn to include a strip of northeast Charles County, including Hughesville.
“It means jobs. It means economic development, and the state recognized that this is a regional project benefiting Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s, and that the primary focus was on education, and they elected to move forward at this time rather than wait for a comprehensive plan for all of Charles County,” he said.
Miller credited MDP Secretary Richard Hall with considering the PFAs “separate, apart from the needs of all of Charles County.”
“He recognized it was about education, about jobs, moving forward with the old tobacco warehouses and making Hughesville vibrant again,” Miller said.
Hall has been critical of the county draft comprehensive plan, calling it “pitiful” on his personal Facebook page two days after its Aug. 5 approval by the Charles County Planning Commission. Hall was later one of a dozen state agency heads, comprising Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) Smart Growth Subcabinet, to write county citing “serious concerns” with the draft plan.