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Board plans appeal of school decision

The decision by a state panel could delay the closing of Conococheague Elementary School.

The decision by a state panel could delay the closing of Conococheague Elementary School.

January 14, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The Washington County Board of Education is appealing a state panel's decision that could delay the closing of Conococheague Elementary School and will hold a public hearing on the issue tonight.

The hearing will be at 7 p.m. at Western Heights Middle School.

The Maryland School Construction Program deferred sending the School Board's plans to renovate Maugansville Elementary School to the Maryland Board of Public Works because a feasibility study on the matter had not been completed.

Without a feasibility study, the state construction committee had unanswered questions about the school system's plan to purchase land and close 42-year-old Conococheague Elementary, said Yael Stenzler, executive director of the Maryland Public School Construction Program.

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Dennis McGee, the school system's director of facilities management, said the process of approval for school construction projects normally moves from the Maryland School Construction Program to the Maryland Interagency Committee to the Maryland Board of Public Works.

This year, the Maryland Interagency Committee didn't meet to review the Maryland School Construction program's deferments because there was no money to give out.

Stenzler said 20 of the state's 24 school districts plan to appeal to the Board of Public Works over projects for which approval has been deferred.

A feasibility study is required by the state if the school system plans to tear down more than 25 percent of an existing school.

McGee said the School Board is looking at about four options for renovations for Maugansville Elementary, some of which would require demolition of more than 25 percent of the existing structure.

McGee said the school system has been fast-tracking the Maugansville renovation project, trying to complete the feasibility study and the project planning in one year. Normally, he said, the feasibility study would be done one year and the planning phase would be done the following year.

"The board has prioritized this project," McGee said.

The Maugansville renovation and Conococheague closing have been included in the school system's five-year Master Plan and Capital Improvement Plan.

McGee said the School Board denied approval for the Maugansville feasibility study in 2000, but approved it last fall.

He said the feasibility study and the decision to close Conococheague must be finalized by March 31 in order to have the plans reviewed by the state before the end of this year's General Assembly session.

McGee said he plans to take the feasibility study before the School Board on March 4 for a first review.

He said state funding is dwindling for school construction projects. This year, school systems have requested $310 million in school funding, but only $78.5 million is available, he said.

The Aging School Program, which provides grants that fund construction projects for schools 15 years and older, will end its funding after fiscal year 2004. The school system has received $200,000 per year from the program over the past six years. In the past, it has funded projects like recarpeting, reflooring and installing fire alarm systems in older schools.

In order to make up for funding cuts from the state, the School Board planned today to ask the Washington County Commissioners for $5.9 million for school construction projects in fiscal year 2004.

That's $900,000 more than the $5 million in school construction funds the commissioners agreed to provide for fiscal year 2003.

School Board members plan to tell the County Commissioners they may have to ask in spring 2004 for $9.2 million for fiscal years 2005 and 2006 in order to have the Maugansville renovations completed by August 2006, the original completion date.

McGee said the request to the County Commissioners will depend on the amount of money that will come from the state.

The Maugansville project was one of 67 projects for which approval by the state public school construction program was deferred. Only three, plans for two school additions and one replacement school, were approved by the state, Stenzler said.

Construction plans are not funded by the state, but if the plans are approved, the project can go forward for funding by the state, Stenzler said.

Renovations to Salem Avenue Elementary School and repairs to Northern Middle School's boiler were approved by the Public School Construction Program this year.

The Board of Public Works will hear the School Board's appeal Jan. 22. The three-member board approves such expenditures as major construction contracts and property transactions.

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