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Consolidation of schools proposed

January 03, 2001

Consolidation of schools proposed



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


Maugansville and Conococheague elementary schools would be closed and consolidated into a new $11 million school under a proposal in the Washington County Board of Education's Capital Improvement Plan for fiscal years 2003-2007.

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In addition, a 33,186-square-foot section of Bester Elementary School built in 1965 would be demolished and replaced with a new $10 million school at the same site.

The original wing of Bester, which was built in 1930, would be saved and possibly used as an alternative school, said Dennis McGee, the School Board's director of facilities management.

The proposed consolidation of Maugansville and Conococheague would mean positions for a principal and other staff members would be eliminated, but no teaching positions would be cut, McGee said.

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The board thinks it could save a significant amount of money by the consolidation.

McGee said the school system would save about $1 million if it combined the two schools and constructed a new building instead of repairing the existing schools. Repairs would cost about $12 million.

The system would also save about $300,000 per year in operating expenses, including staffing and utilities.

The consolidated school would be about 57,760 square feet and would be at an as-yet-undetermined site toward Cearfoss and between the existing schools. About 608 students would attend the new school.

The new Bester school would be about the same size. Final numbers and amounts could change, depending on the rates when construction starts, McGee said.

The proposals were contained in the Capital Improvement Plan McGee presented to the School Board on Tuesday.

McGee said board administrators have considered consolidation scenarios for years. He also said a Consolidation Committee, which consists of School Board administrators and members and Washington County Commissioners, has discussed combining some schools.

Planning is to begin in 2003 for the consolidation project and in 2004 for the new Bester school. That could change, depending on funding.

The School Board plans to ask the County Commissioners for $6.5 million a year in capital improvement funds, a $2 million increase over what it now receives. Without the increases, the consolidation plan could be delayed or scrapped, School Board member J. Herbert Hardin said.

Planning major consolidation and renovations projects now would save the county money in the future, Hardin said. In about 10 years, many schools in the system will be in need of major repairs.

"You either pay now or you pay very dearly later," Hardin said.

Sue Gordon, principal of Conococheague Elementary, said there have been rumors of possible consolidations in the past, but nothing was ever proposed. She said she was not shocked to hear that it might happen.

"We have to do what's best for the kids," Gordon said. "We have two aging buildings. We've just got to look down the road."

McGee said the Conococheague school uses a septic system and could have major water and sewer problems if it remains open another 10 years or more. The 26,780-square-foot school was built in 1960.

Vicki Sterling, president of Maugansville Elementary PTA, said she wouldn't mind a new school being built. She described the conditions at the school as "deplorable."

She said there's no air conditioning, the floor tiling is coming up in some areas and some windows can't be opened.

"We need an updated facility. We don't have a lot of room," said Sterling, who has a fourth-grader at the school. "A new building would be great for the student body and great for the community."

Peggy Franks, a mother of a kindergarten student and a second-grader at Conococheague, said a new school would best serve the students as long as the quality of education wasn't affected.

She said the school uses bottled water because its water supply is contaminated with lead.

Teresa Brechbill, PTA president at Bester Elementary, said her school needs repairs but she isn't convinced building a new school is the best idea.

"Ten million is a lot of money," she said. "There are still many things that can be used in that school.

I just think it's a shame to see buildings going to waste or being demolished, then brand new buildings going up for four times the money."

Brechbill has a kindergartner and third-grader at the school.

Maugansville Elementary School started out as a 15,107-square-foot school in 1936 and additions were added in 1955 and 1968. The building now has 38,161 square feet of space.

McGee said that not only is the school in "disrepair," but it's known to flood after storms because of runoff from Hagerstown Regional Airport. The last big flood was in 1996, when 8 inches of water ended up inside the school.

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