'You can't make this stuff up'
County employees have not moved into former bank building four years after purchase
County Adminstrator Greg Murray walks thru the basement at the former Home Federal and PNC Bank next to the County Adminstration offices on W. Washington St. (By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer / October 6, 2012)
Fireproofing with asbestos
Back then, as was the practice, the construction crews “were spraying asbestos on beams to make them fireproof. They were completely encapsulated,” Phoebus said.
In the early 1980s, further protective steps were taken, he said.
“They actually built wallboard around them and shielded them in so that the dust would not get into the (office and other bank) rooms,” he said.
In the basement, “down in the dungeon, we called it, asbestos was used on all the pipes down there,” he said.
Over the years, the name out front changed. Home Federal Savings & Loan became Home Federal Savings Bank. Then, Home Federal was acquired by Farmers & Mechanics Bank, which eventually was acquired by Mercantile, which had a subsidiary named The Fidelity Bank.
It was Fidelity that in October 2006 sold the bank building, including its hidden rowhouse, plus a handful of properties that fronted on West Franklin Street in back of the bank, for a total of $1.4 million. The buyer was WWS LLC.
Approaching the county
Local residential and commercial developer David Lyles had an office just a block away from the bank in 2006, when he was contacted by PNC Bank, Hagerstown attorney Jason Divelbiss said. PNC, which had acquired Mercantile, was the latest financial institution to occupy the original Home Federal building, he said.
“PNC was saying, ‘We need a bigger office area. We need a new branch building. We hear you’re doing a new building. So, let’s talk,’” said Divelbiss, whose law practice often represents Lyles.
The developer was building The Lyles Center, a two-story office building in the North End. And PNC wanted to sell the downtown Hagerstown bank building to Lyles and move in to Lyles’ new building as a tenant, Divelbiss said.
So in summer 2006, while planning to buy the downtown building, Lyles went looking for potential tenants to add to the two law firms and the accounting firm already leasing space there, Divelbiss said. With the county government next door, he said, Lyles “would have gone to the county and said, ‘Hey, are you interested in leasing this building when PNC goes out?’”
Initially, the attorney said, the county seemed interested in moving its engineering department from the former Grand Union grocery building at 80 W. Baltimore St., which now was a county office building. Although the county’s interest faded, WWS — which Divelbiss said he thinks is short for “West Washington Street” and of which Lyles is a principal — went ahead with the purchase.
So, “really nothing came” of Lyles’ leasing talks with the county “until probably a year and a half later,” the attorney said. “That’s when the conversations started with the county about a possible purchase of the building.”
Considering the potential
The county wasn’t so much interested in buying the building as it was in buying the lots behind it, Murray said.
“Our primary goal wasn’t that we wanted the building next door,” Murray said. “The primary reason was, we wanted (the land in back as part of a site) for the transfer station.”
For years, he said, many County Commuter bus passengers had complained about an old transfer station that was under a city railroad bridge and some downtown merchants weren’t happy about the groups of bus passengers that waited in front of their businesses to change buses near Public Square.
In about 2005, studies were launched to evaluate potential sites for a new transfer station, Murray said. By 2007, he said, the commissioners had seen draft copies of a consultant’s plan that recommended putting a station near the county government offices at 80 W. Baltimore St., at a lot off East Antietam Street or on the largely undeveloped rubble-strewn lots behind the PNC Bank building.