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A new HQ for the BOE?

August 14, 1998

We have one word for the proposal to build a new headquarters building for the Washington County Board of Education: No!

Not until school officials have renovated abominably designed schools like Fountain Rock Elementary, an "open school" where students eat lunch at their desks because there is no cafeteria. Not until every school that is overcrowded gets the additional classrooms it needs. Then and only then should the system consider spending a great deal of money on new administrative offices.

In other nearby counties - Berkeley and Jefferson counties in West Virginia - school officials use old school buildings for their headquarters. That might be an option in Washington County, if past boards had had the foresight to retain title to facilities like the Washington Street school, with its spacious rooms and easy access to U.S. 40 and Interstate 81.

Unfortunately, the school was sold, along with a flock of others, which would seem to leave renovation or new construction the only option. Our vote is for renovation, even though Superintendent Herman Bartlett Jr. said that it would be throwing good money after bad.

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It's a message local taxpayers have heard before, in relation to facilities like Hagerstown's Surrey School, declared by school system officials to be beyond repair, but which private industry has turned into a money-generating day care center.

We'll grant the school board and administrators this point: The present headquarters building is a maze of tiny offices that could be mistaken for an army barracks if you didn't know better. To declare that it's beyond re-use is premature, however.

We suggest that the school system ask for proposals on a cost-effective renovation, and perhaps cut cost by utilizing some Career Studies Center students under professional supervision. Private industry has show it can make a buck out of the school system's discards. Let's try their approach on the central office and reserve the new construction money for those everyone says are most important - the students.

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