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Projecting the need for schools

December 07, 2004

Last month, officials of the Washington County Public Schools decided they would need more than double the amount of money first estimated for school construction over the next six years.

Instead of $60 million, William Blum, the school system's chief operating officer, told the School Board it would need $171.9 million, a recommendation the board approved.

Not only did Blum and the board call for more money in the future, they also asked the Washington County Commissioners to more than double the amount of construction cash for fiscal 2005-2006 - from $10 million ton $24.15 million.

It is clear now that both the county government and the school system underestimated the amount of school space that would be needed over the next 10 years. The school system, which not long ago considered closing Conococheague Elementary, now may have to keep it open to handle an expected population surge.

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While we recommend spending no time on a discussion of who didn't see this coming, it's of paramount importance that that the next projections be accurate. Depending on census information isn't enough.

Someone has to talk to owners of already approved lots not affected by the current moratorium to see when development is going to occur.

And if keeping Conococheague open, with all the problems cited over the years, is an option, why not look at some other alternatives to new construction, at least on a temporary basis?

Some counties in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle have used vacant shopping center storefronts for some classes while new facilities were being built. For the property owners, this would seem ideal, not only filling an empty property, but also drawing foot traffic to the center's other retailers.

Our point is that the county cannot quickly double the amount of available school-construction cash. Perhaps it's time to look again at the School Board's proposal to issue bonds, to ask developers to donate school sites and to use whatever facilities are available until those doing the projecting have a better handle on what will be needed, and how soon.

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