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School buildings draw a 'D+' grade

July 14, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

SHARPSBURG - Washington County schools need an extra $1.5 million a year from county government to keep up with the need for repairs, renovations and new classrooms over the next five years, school officials told the Washington County Commissioners Tuesday.

Overall, the Washington County Board of Education gives its 43 schools a "D+" for physical condition, said Dennis McGee, director of facilities management.

The school board needs to spend $19.1 million between the year 2000 and 2005 to bring the schools up to a "C" average, he said.

McGee's grades don't take into consideration deterioration over the five years or adding new classrooms to lower the teacher-student ratio.

The five-year plan calls for building classrooms at elementary schools in growing areas of the county northeast and south of Hagerstown instead of using relocatable classrooms that cost nearly as much, McGee said.

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The first year of the plan - which would add five rooms to Funkstown Elementary, renovate Williamsport Elementary and do maintenance at schools countywide - would cost $3.6 million, he said.

In the past, the commissioners have told the school board to budget about $2.5 million a year for such capital improvement projects.

Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said the school board needs to find creative ways to make use of the schools instead of building more classrooms.

Previous efforts to save money, such as a proposal to close Marshall Street School, have been opposed by the public, school board member Doris J. Nipps said.

One reason the school building plan is so expensive is that Washington County is trying to keep its elementary schools small, said Bowers, the only commissioner to voice an opinion about the five-year plan during a meeting between the commissioners and the school board at Sharpsburg Elementary School.

"There is a price tag for neighborhood schools. The public needs to know the cost," he said.

Bowers said an upcoming strategic plan to fix problems in Washington County's curriculum will cost even more money.

"But we haven't done anything to save money. Nobody's been charged with how to save money," he said.

The school's capital improvements budget will be further stretched by likely new state requirements - air-conditioning at all schools and year-round kindergarten, school board member B. Marie Byers said.

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