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Plan nearly triples schools money

October 06, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Almost $123 million would be injected into Washington County school construction and improvements - nearly tripling the current amount - if a plan discussed Tuesday were fully funded.

The proposed spending plan includes a new high school and a new elementary school near the current Eastern Elementary School, at a cost of $51.8 million.

It also includes $10 million to acquire land and $17.6 million for a new elementary school in the Saint James area.

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The Washington County Board of Education is scheduled to meet Oct. 19 with the Washington County Commissioners, who eventually will decide whether to fund the plan and to what degree.

The School Board did not vote on the proposal Tuesday.

Imminent, rapid population growth in the county, through hundreds of housing units, will produce a stream of new students, said William Blum, the school system's chief operating officer.

A report Blum prepared shows that the district's enrollment increased by 448 students, or 2.3 percent, from September 2003 to September 2004.

By September 2005, the district should add an estimated 519 - or 2.6 percent - more students, Blum's report says.

"We're paying the price for many years where we didn't see what was coming," Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said during a work session Tuesday morning.

The Washington County school system is in "a 'super-growth' county," Blum's report says.

New construction didn't make sense when the state provided more money to renovate schools than to build new ones, Washington County Commissioner and former School Board member Doris J. Nipps said in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon.

Also, for years, the county couldn't fund many large projects - but new development fees have created a pot of money, she said.

Nipps said the School Board appears to be preparing a long-range plan, as the County Commissioners requested.

She said she thought the school system's construction backlog was about $80 million, so the amount is higher than she expected.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the school system's proposed spending plan depends on the pace of development.

"There's a lot of ifs in this," he said.

At their afternoon meeting, school board members suggested talking to local school groups and committees; the Greater Hagerstown Committee, made up of local business people who privately work on local issues; and School Board members in Frederick County, Md., which Washington County is using as a model for responding to growth.

Board member Jacqueline Fischer suggested reconsidering getting state approval to issue bonds.

As of December 2003, the School Board's current seven-year capital improvement program stood at $65.9 million.

The supplementary plan that Blum offered Tuesday includes $122.7 million worth of projects.

The new total amount was not clear Tuesday, but it appears to be less than adding the two amounts together, school officials said.

For example, $20 million for a new Maugansville Elementary School, which is listed in the latest proposal, apparently would replace $14 million already planned for the school, as of December.

Staff writer Scott Butki contributed to this story.

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