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Board officials say school of the arts still years away

November 26, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown School of the Arts is scheduled to soon take another step toward being built but it may still be a few years before the high school actually opens, Washington County Board of Education officials said this week.

A contract for a feasibility study for the project is scheduled to be awarded at the school board meeting in December or January, Facilities Director Rodney Turnbough said.

Turnbough said the project has been estimated to cost between $4 million and $5 million but a more specific estimate will come out of the feasibility study. Once the system has a more solid estimate it will make it easier to solicit additional donations and grants, he said.

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Roger Giles, the school system's director of funded and special programs, said he thinks the feasibility study will take about three months to be completed.

The study is important because it will provide a better sense of how much renovation work would need to be done to build the school in an existing three-story building, Giles said.

During the last legislative session, the state government awarded a $400,000 grant to help pay for work on the school, Giles said.

Giles said he anticipates the feasibility study will cost the school system more than $100,000.

About $90,000 has been set aside to pay for the project, Giles said. This includes $25,000 from the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and $25,000 from the Maryland Community Legacy Foundation, he said.

Hagerstown property owner Vincent Groh donated the former Henry's Theater at 9-11 S. Potomac St. for the school. Groh requested that the school be named for his late wife, so it is now being called the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts.

While Giles said the goal is for the school to open in the fall of 2006, Board President Edward Forrest said that timeline is a bit optimistic.

Part of the problem is funding for construction of the school is dependent on donations and grants, Giles and Forrest said.

Also, the school system is planning on making the school the first charter high school in Maryland, Forrest said.

"I think everyone is anxious to make it happen yesterday," Forrest said. "It may take a little bit longer, as long as we get the finished product to be the best it can be," Forrest said.

As a charter school it would be eligible for special state and federal grants and would be able to raise funds separately from the school system, said Jacqueline Fischer, the school board member serving as liaison for the project. While Giles, Fischer and others eagerly anticipate the school, "it has not been on the front burner," Fischer said.

The construction of new schools to address enrollment growth has to take priority over building the arts school, she said.

Despite that the arts school project is very much alive, she said.

While it is unknown when exactly construction will begin, Giles and others have been developing related plans for the school, including partnerships with various groups, Giles said.

For example, the Washington County Free Library is considering a proposal to serve as the information center for the school, which will free up space at the actual school, Giles said.

Fischer said the hope is the school will offer classes in band, orchestra, painting, drawing, sculpture, theater, vocal and dance, among other possible options.

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