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Downtown site considered for board of education

February 07, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

Local government officials are exploring the idea of moving the Washington County Board of Education offices into downtown Hagerstown.

Business leaders last year suggested moving the administrative offices from Commonwealth Avenue in the name of downtown revitalization.

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In August, state Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, wrote to Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening, saying the move would fit well with the state's Smart Growth initiative.

Glendening has asked a state budget analyst to review Munson's request for $4.25 million.

But School Board members said they haven't discussed the move and some raised concerns about availability of parking and reuse of the current offices, which date to 1938.

After being contacted by a state budget analyst two weeks ago, Washington County Administrator Rodney Shoop said he began putting together a committee to study the idea.

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It will have representatives from the county economic development commission, Hagerstown city government and the school board.

"I think it's important for us to look at this closely,"Shoop said.

Bringing 150 to 200 professionals downtown, where they could eat and shop, could be a major boost, he said.

The project is in the early stages. There is no proposed site and neither the state nor the county has committed funding, Shoop said.

The project would not compete for dollars with badly needed school renovation projects, he said.

The county will look for other sources of money outside its capital improvement program, possibly using a $250,000 fund dedicated to urban revitalization, he said.

"It seems like they're jumping the gun a little bit. We're having a one-sided conversation and the major player's being left out," said School Board member Edwin Hayes.

Board member Doris Nipps said the board needs to be included in the discussion because it will make the final decision about whether to proceed.

Board members B. Marie Byers and Mary Wilfong said they have concerns about sufficient parking downtown.

Byers also wondered what would happen to the building on Commonwealth Avenue, especially its recently renovated planetarium.

Munson, in his letter to Glendening, said the School Board had entertained the idea of building new offices, citing cramped and inefficient conditions.

"With several attractive locations available in the four-block area of downtown, funding remains the major obstacle to moving this project forward," Munson wrote.

Byers said there isn't a space problem and the idea of renovating the building came from Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.

Board members also expressed concern about where the money would come from to pay for the project.

"One thing's for sure. Whatever we do can't come at the cost of our students," Hayes said.

Byers said the school system could use the $4.25 million in the schools.

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