Questions arise over funding for Barbara Ingram arts school

April 18, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - There are concerns that a Board of Education plan to fund a new school would come with a higher interest rate than if the county financed it through municipal bonds, County Commissioners President John F. Barr said Tuesday.

The board approved a partnership with the Maryland Economic Development Corp. to fund the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in March, in part financing the $9 million project with bonds that the school system would pay back with an interest rate of about 5.5 percent. The Hagerstown City Council has said it supports the project.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said the county can borrow money at an interest rate of about 4 percent.

"We all know taxpayers are going to pay for this project," he said after a joint meeting Tuesday.

The former Henry's Theater on South Potomac Street will be renovated to house the school that will enroll about 300 high school students.


A MEDCO partnership will require the City of Hagerstown, which owns the building, to lease the facility to a local nonprofit corporation that would serve as the facility owner/lessor, officials have said. Board members have mentioned a possible partnership with the Community Foundation of Washington County.

The partnership will allow the project to be eligible for a number of tax credits and grants that would lower the overall cost of the project by about $2 million.

"We're going to use tax money to get tax money," Wivell said.

The gross bond issue amount will be about $10.5 million, according to information presented to commissioners Tuesday. The school system could enter into a lease for 20 to 30 years. MEDCO will charge an annual fee of $8,800 to $9,600 depending on the length of the lease.

School system Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said she believed some of the cost could be minimized by seeking private donors and by allowing naming rights for parts of the school.

Board of Education Vice President Wayne Ridenour said the board was looking for the commissioners' support of the plan.

"We were looking for your blessing," he said. "I don't know any other way to say it."

Commissioners said they would discuss the school system's funding plan at an upcoming meeting.

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