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School consolidation study nearly finished

January 18, 2001

School consolidation study nearly finished



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


As the committee studying school consolidation puts the finishing touches on its 33-page report, area parents are gearing up to fight the possible closing of one of the schools listed.

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The Facilities Review Committee, made up of County Commissioners John Schnebly and William Wivell, School Board members Mary Wilfong and J. Herbert Hardin, and Board of Education administrators William McKinley and Dennis McGee, met for the final time Thursday.

The group plans to present its findings to the full board of Washington County Commissioners and the School Board at a meeting on Feb. 13 at 6 p.m. at the board's central office on Commonwealth Avenue.

Schnebly said the committee was formed to look at the consolidation issue, not make rulings or recommendations.

"We're not really any more than a fact-finding body to give the working boards something to deliberate," Schnebly said.

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The report states the county can save $1.6 million a year by consolidating Winter Street and Salem Avenue elementary schools; Conococheague and Maugansville elementary schools; Cascade and Smithsburg elementary schools; and Funkstown, Emma K. Doub and Fountain Rock elementary schools.

Winter Street, Conococheague, Maugansville, Cascade and Funkstown elementary schools would close. An $11 million new school would be built for Conococheague and Maugansville students, while Salem Avenue, Smithsburg, Emma K. Doub and Fountain Rock would be renovated to accommodate larger enrollments.

The committee says the quality of education would not be harmed if enrollments at the consolidated schools are kept at about 500 students each.

Including the cost of the new school, the entire consolidation project would cost about $24.2 million, with $12.8 million coming from local funds.

Cascade parents oppose any talk of closing Cascade Elementary and have started their own committee called Save Our Community School.

The Cascade PTA and Citizens Advisory Committee has also set up a meeting on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the school.

Members of the School Board, board administrators and County Commissioners are expected to attend and listen to concerns of parents. Parents said they have also invited state senators and delegates to the meeting.

Karl Weissenbach, chairman of Save Our Community School, said the Facilities Review Committee's report doesn't take into account the impact that closing the school would have on the Cascade community.

Without a school, Weissenbach said, Cascade businesses would not develop and the community would suffer financial hardships.

He said the Cascade community "represents a small part of America" and that Cascade Elementary, which is more than 70 years old, survived The Great Depression.

"Cascade is unique to the area and we're only asking for a fair shake," Weissenbach said. "We have to press upon the elected officials that they got to look at other facts before reaching a final decision."

He said if Smithsburg and Cascade elementary schools were combined, the total enrollment would exceed the 500-student limit the report discussed. According to the report, Cascade has an enrollment of 158 and Smithsburg 344. If any growth were to occur within the consolidated district, Weissenbach said the school could not take in more students.

"What are you going to do with any added growth?" he said.

Young Cascade students would be forced to sit on school buses for long periods of time before arriving at school in Smithsburg, which is about 10 miles away, Weissenbach said.

Hardin said that after the report is presented to the School Board and commissioners, a public hearing will be held so that all concerns can be heard.

Weissenbach, on the other hand, isn't so sure the minds of elected officials aren't already made up.

"This report proves that the boards already have preconceived notions to consolidate the schools. It's an uphill battle, but we'll just fight it."

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