PenMar offers building for use as Cascade school

March 14, 2001

PenMar offers building for use as Cascade school


PenMar Development Corporation has offered the Washington County Board of Education the use of one of its buildings as an elementary school for Cascade-area students in an attempt to keep a school in the area.

In a Feb. 15 letter to the School Board, James LaFleur, executive director of PenMar, invited board members to the former Fort Ritchie Army base to pick out a potential building that could serve as a school. PenMar is charged with redeveloping the base.

The PenMar Development Corporation "shares the vision and passion with the Cascade community for stimulating the local economy and enhancing the quality of life," LaFleur wrote. "We welcome dialogue on this issue at your earliest opportunity."


LaFleur said Wednesday he has not received a response from the School Board.

William McKinley, the board's executive director of support services, and Dennis McGee, the director of facilities management, said they weren't familiar with the letter. When asked if McGee wanted it faxed to him, he said he would not comment.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett said he wasn't familiar with the letter and had no comment. He said all public feedback would be considered when the School Board holds public meetings on consolidation.

"It would certainly be welcomed and considered when the board sets these public meetings up," Bartlett said.

The board is considering closing Cascade Elementary School and sending the students to Smithsburg Elementary School, among other possible consolidations.

The Facilities Review Committee, made up of McKinley and McGee, County Commissioners William Wivell and John Schnebly and School Board members Mary Wilfong and J. Herbert Hardin, said the county could save $1.6 million a year and boost the quality of education by consolidating nine elementary schools.

Wilfong could not be reached for comment. Hardin said LaFleur's offer was discussed, but he couldn't remember where, when or who led the discussion. He said he didn't remember the details of the letter.

He thought that staff members had discussed the issue with the Facilities Review Committee and that they said there would be legal problems if the board were to lease property for the school.

"I do remember someone mentioning this, and I thought it was a staff member," Hardin said. "At this point they said they would not do that. They said there would have to be outright ownership by the Board of Education."

He also said the board would have to look into the condition of the building, upkeep, liability and cost of utilities.

Wivell and Schnebly, who said they've received LaFleur's letter, said his proposal is worth looking into but that they weren't sure it would be effective.

"I don't know if moving from one building to another is going to help anything," Wivell said.

"That would be something we would consider, but I have my hesitations," Schnebly said. "I think the real problem is, with only 190 students, where you really get killed is in the staffing costs."

He said the county has the responsibility of making sure taxpayers' money is spent in the most efficient manner.

"Someone has to cut the check," Schnebly said. "It's hard to tax like a conservative and spend like a liberal. We're asking the people to shoulder some pretty big bills there."

Cascade was built in 1924, has no air conditioning and is a "maintenance burden," according to the committee report.

Wivell said he found two interesting points in LaFleur's letter, one the building offer and the other that the letter "left the door open for corporate sponsorship."

LaFleur said PenMar supports a school in Cascade because it's important for economic development. PenMar is subleasing 130 residential units on the former Army base and hopes to make another 200 available by 2004.

"A prerequisite for many tenants selecting PMDC's residential property is the presence of an elementary school in the immediate area," LaFleur wrote. "In addition, like many rural communities who lack a municipal government, the Cascade Elementary School is the hub of community energy, support and activity.

"We clearly see this cultural center as the focal point for planning, improving and revitalizing the community devastated by the closure of Fort Ritchie and loss of economic stability," the letter said.

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