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Can School Board trade old HQ for downtown?

March 26, 2004

Now that the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee has approved a $400,000 grant for a proposed school for the arts in downtown Hagerstown, it's time to look again at the idea of moving the school system's central offices downtown.

Why now? Because the Washington County government has approved a $600,000 grant that will allow for construction of a new 200-space parking deck, which means school system workers wouldn't have to search for a slot each day.

Also, when the University System of Maryland's Hagerstown Education Center opens in January of 2005, the building on Public Square that now serves as the Frostburg Center will be vacant. It's not a new structure, but neither is the current headquarters' property on Commonwealth Avenue, which is cramped and poorly laid out, among other things.

Moving into the Frostburg Center would give the school system a new, larger meeting room and more important, access to the USM facilities. We're not just talking about the physical facilities, but the advanced training that will be available there.

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Wouldn't it be nice, for example, to have education majors available to do internships at a facility just half a block away? Wouldn't it be nice for veteran educator like Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan to be able do guest lectures at the USM facility without having to drive halfway across town to do so?

And because the city and county governments are headquartered downtown, having a presence there might also allow the school system to share resources and save cash in the process.

In industry and business, there's a lot of talk about "synergy" these days. It's a trendy term for "joint work toward a common end." It seems to us that there should be some synergy possible between the school system's top educators and the University System of Maryland's new educational facility.

That's not to say there shouldn't be a study of the practical questions involved, such as: Would there be enough room downtown? If renovations are needed, what would they cost? And finally, what productive use could be made of the old headquarters building? Once those questions are answered, the school system will know whether or not this idea makes sense.

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