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A key to education and downtown

April 08, 2007|By Roxanne Ober

To the editor:

To anyone who has been to Hagerstown recently, it is quite obvious that the long-awaited renaissance of the downtown area is well under way. The transformation in progress has been due to the hard work of many visionary Washington County elected officials, business people, community leaders and civic-minded residents.

In particular, the envisioned arts and entertainment district, anchored by the Maryland Theatre, is emerging as a premier attraction.

An integral part of the exciting revitalization of downtown is the planned Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. The Washington County Public Schools have been working closely with the City of Hagerstown to develop the former Henry's Theater into a facility to house a planned school for the arts.

The property was donated to the city by businessman Vincent Groh in memory of his late wife Barbara. To date, funding of the feasibility study and preliminary design and programming for this project has been provided by community organizations and the State of Maryland. The school system and civic and business leaders are very excited about this project for a number of reasons:

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This type of facility is needed as a regional school in Western Maryland to address the demand for an arts-intensive education and to develop the arts potential of young people, not just in Washington County, but the neighboring counties as well.

· The school would create capacity for up to 300 students at an incremental cost to the school system, which is materially lower than the cost of a new school.

· As noted above, the school is also an important part of the economic and architectural revitalization of downtown Hagerstown.

To finance the school (estimated cost is $9 million), Washington County Public Schools has enlisted the assistance of Ardath Cade and the Maryland Economic Development Corporation, or MEDCO, to work out a creative, alternative financing plan that addresses the following key objectives:

· Funding all of construction expenses will be at the lowest cost possible.

· Minimal or no impact will be made on the county or Washington County Public Schools' balance sheet.

· Turnkey development will be under Washington County Public Schools supervision.

·Ongoing operating control will be under Washington County Public Schools.

In order to achieve the above-stated objectives, Washington County Public Schools and its team will develop a public-private partnership approach with MEDCO, a local nonprofit organization, and the City of Hagerstown.

We await with great anticipation the opening of the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in 2009. We know that it will become one of the many new jewels in the rebirth of downtown Hagerstown.

Roxanne Ober is president of the Washington County Board of Education.

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