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School committee tours Fort Ritchie buildings

May 08, 2001

School committee tours Fort Ritchie buildings



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Fort RitchiePhoto: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Washington County Board of Education representatives on Monday toured two vacant buildings at the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base that some think could serve as a school for Cascade Elementary students.

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James LaFleur, executive director of PenMar Development Corp., said the former commissary and Post Exchange buildings are in good shape and could serve as a school.

PenMar is in the process of turning the base into a business park and a residential development.

School Board members J. Herbert Hardin and Mary Wilfong, school administrators Dennis McGee and William McKinley and County Commissioner William Wivell took the tour. All served on the Facilities Review Committee, which wrote a report on closing and consolidating several county elementary schools, including Cascade Elementary.

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Cascade would be consolidated with Smithsburg Elementary School if the board approves the proposal on Aug. 21.

Cascade Committee Chairman Karl Weissenbach, Vice President Greg DeLauter and member Wayne Buhrman also took part in the tour. LaFleur is also a member of the Cascade Committee.

The Cascade Committee and PenMar are opposed to the proposal to pull the elementary school from the Cascade area, saying it would harm the economic development of the area, lessen the quality of education and force young students to ride on the bus for more than an hour to and from school.

The Facilities Review Committee report claims the county could save $1.6 million a year and maintain the quality of education by closing the schools.

The former commissary, a 50,000-square-foot building, was built in the mid 1990s. The Post Exchange, or PX, has about 30,000 square feet.

McKinley said if the commissary were to be used as a school, it probably would provide more than enough room to house Cascade Elementary students.

"It's probably easily big enough for 500 kids," McKinley said.

The Cascade Committee expects Cascade Elementary's enrollment to reach about 350 students when more housing units at the base are occupied.

Approximately 140 housing units are occupied now. LaFleur said he expects 200 more to be available by 2003-2004. He's also expecting an influx of jobs and businesses at the former base.

"There's no doubt they'll build," LaFleur said. "There is major demand for this property up here for residential (development)."

Wivell said using the commissary as a school might save money by lowering Cascade's cost per pupil.

Cost per pupil takes into account administration, instructional salaries, instructional materials, special services, transportation, operation of facilities and fixed charges.

Wivell said for the Fort Ritchie property to be used, the county would have to receive money from the state and federal government.

"If it's going to be all county money, it probably wouldn't be viable," Wivell said.

Wivell said he thinks PenMar would donate the property to the county to be used as a school. He also said businesses in the development might be interested in making private donations to help fund the school.

"We'd like to know early if there's future interest in this being the future home for Cascade Elementary," LaFleur said. "A school obviously would be a good complement to the development. It fits perfectly."

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