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WCPS enrollment increase is lower than expected

November 30, 1999|By KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

Washington County Public Schools enrollment increase this year is 30 percent lower than anticipated, but growth still could give Conococheague Elementary School a new lease on life.

The Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to modify its 2007-2012 Capital Improvement Program and approve a new feasibility study that could keep Conococheague open. The total cost for the program, which has not been presented for approval to the Washington County Commissioners, is almost $221 million.

According to Chief Operating Officer G. William Blum, the number of new students this year is about 30 percent lower than expected. Long-term projections for student enrollment have been reduced to reflect 375 to 550 new students for the next six years, compared to the 500 to 600 new students that initially were projected, Blum said.

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Changes to the CIP include the possibility of keeping open and renovating Conococheague Elementary School and reducing portable classroom purchases to reflect smaller increases in enrollment, Blum said. The board also might not need to build a new high school, but instead consider expanding South Hagerstown High School to an enrollment of about 1,700 students, Blum said.

"Breaks my heart to have to do this, but the numbers don't support a new high school at this time," Blum said. According to the school's Web site, South High currently has an enrollment of 1,171 ? about 100 students more than its state-rated capacity.

The board voted to close Conococheague in 2003.

Enrollment increases in the district Conococheague serves have been greater than anticipated, and the school system has no land to build on in the area, Blum said. Conococheague, which currently has room for three classes at every grade level, could be expanded, depending on the results of a feasibility study, Blum said.

The decision to close the school caused "angst" and a "contentious" environment, board member Bernadette M. Wagner said. When members discussed whether the board would have to rescind its earlier vote in order to go forward with a modified CIP including a request for a new feasibility study of Conococheague, Wagner suggested they not give false hope to people who initially lobbied against the school's closing.

Citing safety concerns that were raised at the time the board voted to close Conococheague, Wagner said the board will have to consider carefully any decision to keep open the school.

In its vote, the board agreed to modify the CIP to include a feasibility study of renovations at Conococheague. It also approved asking the commissioners for accelerated funding to buy portable classrooms and hire construction managers on projects to replace or renovate Pangborn Boulevard Elementary School and build a new school called Westfields Elementary School.

The board, which last year asked the commissioners for 18 portable classrooms, this year will ask for only 10 portable classrooms, Blum said. Even though enrollment increases have not been as big as expected, Blum said the system needs more space for students in the northeast quadrant of the urban growth area, near Conococheague.

"It happens to be land in the right place. When you get lemons, you make lemonade, but it could be a good thing," Blum said. "Perhaps the people in Conococheague will like it."

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