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Telemecanique building's price called fair

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A Maryland tax assessor says the price the county commissioners have agreed to pay for a building to house school headquarters is reasonable because the most recent assessment of the site is artificially low.

Ed Burgoon, a commercial assessor for the state in Carroll, said last week that he would value the former manufacturing building about $4 million if he were to assess it today.

Mr. Burgoon said he assessed the 156,000-square-foot building in 1990 for $3 million. At the time, Telemecanique Inc. occupied the building, which sits on 24 acres. The county also is buying an adjacent 1-acre parcel.

The commissioners confirmed two weeks ago that they plan to pay $4.2 million for the former Telemecanique building and 25 acres for use as the school system's headquarters. The assessed value of the property was listed in Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records as $2.1 million.

The Scott S. Bair family, which owned the property, had appealed the assessment and succeeded in getting it reduced to $2 million, Mr. Burgoon said. The state agreed to lower the assessment because the building was leased long term at a rate of $1.50 per square foot, which was a low rate and kept the income-earning potential of the building down, he said.

The property is worth more today because land values have risen since 1990 and the owners are no longer encumbered by a long-term lease, Mr. Burgoon said.

The county does not have a signed contract to buy the property, Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said Friday. The contract is in the hands of the property owner -- Glenn S. Bair of Westminster, president of Development Company of America. Mr. Bair did not return phone calls last week.

Telemecanique, which made electrical components, closed its facility in August 1993.

Assessing a building by figuring the income it could generate if it were leased is one of the three approaches appraisers use to determine the value of a property, said Jerry Bitzel, a Westminster appraiser.

In estimating the value of Telemecanique building, Michael L. Mason, a commercial real estate agent for O'Conor, Piper and Flynn in Westminster, used rent figures that are listed in a Carroll County Department of Economic Development handout.

If the building were leased at $3 per square foot, it would be worth about $3.9 million, based on a formula that includes interest on a 20-year mortgage, Mr. Mason figured. Selling 15 acres of the parcel as the commissioners have said they intend to do, could raise $300,000 if the land were sold at $20,000 per acre.

"I'd say $4.2 million sounds like a reasonable price," Mr. Mason said.

Office space in Westminster rents for $7 to $15 per square foot; warehouse space rents for $3 to $4 per square foot, he said.

Price defended

Commissioner Donald I. Dell and Mr. Brown defended the purchase price, but would not say last week whether the county had appraised the property or what it was told the property was worth.

Commissioner Richard T. Yates said last week that he would not agree to the purchase until he had seen an appraisal, although he voted July 20 to appropriate money for the property.

The property was not listed with real estate agents, so an asking price was not made public.

"Common sense will tell you it's a good buy or not, without an appraisal," said Mr. Dell.

Mr. Brown said, "I'm not going to require an appraisal on this. I'm going on the market value. Can I get what I need for less than what it would cost to build it?"

The cost to buy the Telemecanique building, even after 65,000 square feet are renovated for office space, would be much lower than the cost to build a new headquarters, Mr. Dell and Mr. Brown said.

The commissioners have said they will spend $1.9 million to renovate office space for the school board. At a total price of $6.1 million, the cost per square foot of the Telemecanique building would be $40, they said.

The commissioners said a new building would cost $85 per square foot. They based the price on a proposal that Manekin Corp. recently submitted to the county to build a 36,000-square-foot Health Department building on South Center Street.

In addition to 65,000 square feet of office space, school officials will use the Telemecanique building for warehouse space and a maintenance shop.

R. S. Means Co. Inc., a construction consultant in Kingston, Mass., that publishes construction costs nationwide, reported last year that the median price to build low-rise offices in the

Baltimore area was $64 per square foot. The median price to build warehouse space was $31. The median price to build combined office/warehouse space was $36.

If the county built a 156,000-square-foot building at a cost of $36 per square foot, the price tag would be $5.6 million.

A county capital budget proposal last year showed the school board estimated the cost of a new headquarters building at $8.3 million. The budget did not say how large it would have been.

Paul H. Albright, vice president of Frederick Ward and Associates Inc., a Bel Air architectural firm, said the cost to build office space ranges from $80 to $100 per square foot; warehouse space costs $35 to 50 per square foot.

Frederick Ward and Associates has an open-ended service contract with Carroll County to offer architectural advice.

Judge pushed for space

County commissioners have been looking for a site for the school headquarters for at least eight years. School offices now are in the south wing of the Courthouse Annex at 55 N. Court St., which Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. said he needs for court offices.

Mr. Brown said Judge Beck exerted "a heck of a lot of pressure" on the commissioners to find a new home for the Board of Education.

The court has needed more space for years, Judge Beck said last week. He could have forced the school board out by taking the matter to court, but he said he did not threaten to do that.

"I gave them [the commissioners] copies of things to show them that that type of relief was available," he said.

U.S. Supreme Court cases and federal cases in other states have established a precedent that the court's needs must be met, he said. Carroll court offices are spread out among three buildings and should be consolidated, Judge Beck said.

William Drumm, the president of the Carroll County Taxpayers Association, said he does not believe the court's need is pressing and said the county should not spend $4.2 million for a school board headquarters.

"I'm just wondering if this is necessary," he said. "That's a lot of money to spend because Judge Beck wants more room. I say build another room for Judge Beck."

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