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Board approves funding plan for arts school

March 20, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

With one vote Tuesday, Board of Education members said they approved an innovative approach to funding a new school and took a step toward revitalizing downtown Hagerstown.

The board unanimously approved a partnership with the Maryland Economic Development Corp. to fund the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, which could open as early as 2008. The approval was pursuant to the staff's development of a business and fundraising plan, as well as a marketing and communications plan.

MEDCO will finance the $10 million project with bonds that the school system would pay back at a 5 percent interest rate. The loan would be paid back over 20 years, costing an additional $6.7 million in interest, according to documents provided to the board.

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Roger Giles, director of system development, said that amount is comparable to the amount that would be paid through other funding options.

MEDCO officials have said they would use low-interest loans, tax-exempt financing, a number of tax credits and grants to keep costs for the school system low. Schools spokeswoman Carol Mowen said that those initial credits would decrease the amount needed to finance through MEDCO to about $7 million.

Board members have said they hope to offset the cost even more through private donations and naming rights to classrooms, studios and other areas inside the school.

MEDCO's purpose is to assist in the expansion, modernization and retention of existing Maryland business, and to attract new business to the state, according to information on a state Web site.

Board Member William H. Staley said he was concerned that paying back the initial loan and the interest over the next 20 years would be passing on the burden.

Board Vice President Wayne D. Ridenour said that county-funded schools in Washington County also pass on the cost, saying that the county also pays interest on borrowed money. He said that if the board relies on the county to fund the school for the arts, it may be five to seven years before they are able to.

"We're looking at another high school in five years," Ridenour said. "There's only so much they can borrow."

A MEDCO partnership would require the City of Hagerstown, which owns the former Henry's Theater, to lease the facility to a local nonprofit corporation that would serve as the facility owner/lessor, officials have said. Board Members on Tuesday mentioned a possible partnership with the Community Foundation of Washington County.

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