Havre de Grace to settle on Opera House use of firehouse space

The Havre de Grace City Council gave its permission Monday for Mayor William T. Martin to reach an agreement with the Susquehanna Hose Company that will allow the Cultural Center at the Opera House to use the second floor of the adjoining firehouse for some of its events.

The firehouse at the southeast corner of Union and Pennington avenues has an open second floor that has long been used for events. A two-floor atrium, complete with an elevator, connecting the two buildings was built during the recent restoration of the Opera House completed in the summer of 2017.

While the two buildings were connected, who controls the use of the firehouse’s second floor space was not determined.

“On November 24, 1911, the City of Havre de Grace and the SHCO entered into a lease agreement allowing the SHCO to operate the City owned building (Union Avenue) as a fire station, as long as the SHCO provided fire protection to the City of Havre de Grace, “ Steve Gamatoria, chief of staff for the City of Havre de Grace and a longtime member of the Susquehanna Hose Co., wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon. “The atrium design connection to the firehouse was agreed to in [principle] by the fire department leadership, with an understanding that at some point an agreement may be considered as to how the co-joined spaces may be utilized. The MOU now solidifies how and when the space can be used by the opera house, and conversely how the opera house may be used by the [Susquehanna Hose Co.] for seminars, lectures and the like.”

Rebecca Jessop, executive cirector of the Cultural Center at the Opera House, said the Opera House has been using the space. During an impromptu tour Wednesday afternoon, Jessop showed how the space is set up and used. The Opera House was ready for a movie showing that evening with an accompanying event in the firehouse space. Tables and chairs were arranged to accommodate those attending.

“The Opera House renovation included in its design, utilization of the once empty space between the opera house and the firehouse. Included in the space (among other things) is the atrium that houses the elevator, the sprinkler system tie in that allowed the second floor of the fire station to gain fire sprinkler protection, as well a doorway leading to the fire house (and another means of egress for both buildings),” Gamatoria wrote.

Hospital talk

The status of Harford Memorial Hospital was mentioned at Monday’s city council meeting, but only when David Glenn, the City Council president, addressed the issue during his comments.

University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, which owns and operates Harford County’s two hospitals – Harford Memorial and Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air. Plans call for Harford Memorial in downtown Havre de Grace to be closed and replaced by a freestanding medical center at the Havre de Grace exit off Interstate 95. Upper Chesapeake has been unhappy with its dealings with Havre de Grace and hospital officials are considering other plans.

Glenn said he’s been asked why he’s letting the hospital leave.

“There is no hospital,” Glenn said he has responded.

He added he and the rest of the city government are open to continued negotiations and working with Upper Chesapeake Health to resolve the issue, but they have to look out for what’s best for Havre de Grace, too.

“We asked for a traffic study,” Glenn said, because the most recent such report was eight years old. “When we did that, they started looking elsewhere.”

Elsewhere is Aberdeen, where that city’s mayor and council have passed changes to the existing zoning code to accommodate Upper Chesapeake in its quest to relocate.

“If it goes to Aberdeen,” Glenn said, “so be it.”

He also said he has spoken to the Lyle Sheldon, the longtime CEO of the hospitals as well as a longtime resident of the Havre de Grace area.

“I told Lyle Sheldon that he spoiled us,” Glenn said, adding that Havre de Grace has long had a full service hospital and not having one will be considered a loss.

Florence update

Havre de Grace was prepared for the worst, but hoping for, and got, the best outcome – completely missed by the remnants of Hurricane Florence.

“Boy did we dodge a bullet with Florence,” Martin said.

He said it could’ve been the worst-case scenario with water being driven up the Chesapeake Bay and heavy water flow from the Susquehanna River.

“With water coming down [the river] and water coming up [the bay] and Havre de Grace in the middle, we were a little nervous here in city hall,” Martin said.

The weather Saturday and Sunday turned out to be beautiful after forecasts early in the week predicted that what was left of Florence could’ve been upon the city.

The inaugural Susquehanna River Running Festival was held without a hitch Saturday. So was a Food Truck Festival Sunday that attracted 3,500 to 4,000 people, according to City Council estimates, to the Lockhouse Museum.

The most significant casualty was the postponement of the weekend carnival to benefit the Independence Day Commission.

“The carnival had to be set up by Tuesday to get inspected,” the mayor said, adding that wasn’t possible with Gov. Larry Hogan declaring a state of emergency and the ominous forecasts.

It has been rescheduled for Thursday, Oct. 25, through Sunday, Oct. 28.

“They have to raise money,” the mayor said about the rescheduled carnival as a fundraiser for the Independence Day Commission.

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