Officials vow to fight for South High project funding

December 02, 1996


Staff Writer

It could be as simple as a misunderstanding or a technical problem that caused South Hagerstown High School to be cut in the first round of consideration for state school construction funding for fiscal 1998, Washington County school officials said.

At least that's what they're hoping, said Schools Superintendent Wayne F. Gersen, who will have two opportunities to fight for the school's $12.75 million renovation project before a final decision is made.

School officials were notified last week that the project and two others weren't recommended for funding in 1998 by the staff of the State Interagency Committee (IAC) on School Construction.


The IAC staff recommended deferring funding toward an estimated $250,000 in planning costs for the renovation project at South Hagerstown High School, as well as funding toward replacing the roof at Smithsburg Middle School and replacing the chilling unit at E. Russell Hicks Middle School.

A deferral of state funding toward the planning phase of the South High renovation project would delay its start for at least a year, Gersen said.

Because of local funding constraints, the school's renovation is planned in two phases, the first scheduled for the 1998-1999 school year, he said.

Local school officials are counting on nearly $7.3 million of the project's cost to come from the state, he said.

An appeal hearing on Dec. 17 hearing will allow local school officials to state their case directly to the IAC members, Gersen said.

If that fails, he said, they'll appeal to the governor and State Board of Public Works on Jan. 22 in Annapolis.

Before the first appeal, local school officials with try to find out what caused the IAC staff to hold back the projects, Gersen said.

While it could be an easy-to-fix problem with the project's presentation, school officials may have to tackle other issues to get state officials to approve planning funds, Gersen said.

The school board has asked the Washington County Board of Commissioners to submit a letter promising local funding support for the project.

If the first appeal is denied, Gersen said the county's legislative delegation would be tapped for help as well.

The philosophy behind the South High renovation plan is in line with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's support of renovating older urban schools instead of building new schools, Gersen said.

There's no question that the 40-year-old school is in dire need of renovation, said South Hagerstown High School Principal Richard Martin, who was shocked that the project didn't receive first-round approval.

"There's been an awful lot of road blocks to getting this thing off the ground," Martin said. "It's way beyond the time to do it."

The quality of student instruction is compromised because of the out-of-date facilities, which severely limit technology in the school, Martin said.

The school doesn't meet any ADA standards for handicapped-accessibility, he said.

The South High renovation project has been a major priority of the Revitalization of Education Benefits for South Hagerstown Area Schools - or REBS - a group of South End parents and educators that formed last year.

The county's legislative delegation assured its support for the project, said Chuck Waltemire, REBS facilities committee chairman.

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