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New funding plan possible for Barbara Ingram school

May 30, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - The plan to fund a new arts school in downtown Hagerstown has changed.

Instead of funding the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts through the Maryland Economic Development Corp., the Washington County Board of Education now is looking to enter into a long-term lease that could include borrowing an estimated $11.5 million.

Officials with Washington County Public Schools, the county and the City of Hagerstown agreed last week that it was the most "cost-effective" option, the school system's chief financial adviser, Chris South, said during a meeting Tuesday.

Most County Commissioners said they supported that option, assuming that no money for the project comes from Washington County taxpayers.

Commissioner William J. Wivell said he would prefer to pay for the project through private donations, and Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said he supported the endeavor, but believed that some logistical issues need to be addressed first.

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Officials said an exact cost to build the school and other issues will not be known until construction documents are complete. The estimate now is $11.5 million, which includes furnishings and some contingency money.

The school system also would receive more than $1 million in tax credits from the state if the project is complete by January 2009.

County Administrator Greg Murray said the lease would be for at least 20 years and be paid back at a 4.6 percent to 4.7 percent interest rate.

Commissioners decided that no county money would go toward making lease payments for the school, Murray said. That money would have to be taken from state money, donations and other sources.

Aleshire said that with three new elementary schools opening in 2008, and a backlog of maintenance projects systemwide, the arts school is not a necessity.

"We have three elementary schools that are necessities (because of growth)," he said. "Whether we like to look at (the school for the arts) as a want or not, in the grand scheme of things it is more of a want than a necessity."

Wivell said he would prefer to pay for the project through private donations, an idea Board of Education President Roxanne R. Ober said already was being explored.

Ober said the board has met with a fundraising firm, and hopes to fund most of the school through donations and naming rights to classrooms and other areas.

Wivell said when the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts first was discussed, officials wanted to fully fund it with donations.

"We somehow have evolved from that position to somehow borrowing 100 percent," Wivell said. "If you all want to go out and do this lease, you don't need our blessing. But I wish you would take a year ... and see what kind of support ... is out there."

He suggested placing a school for the arts at Washington County Technical High School in the interim, or abolishing the idea and focusing on creating a specialized school for science and math.

Ober said the board would discuss the direction it wants to take the project and keep County Commissioners updated on their decisions.




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The issue: The Washington County Board of Education approved a partnership with the Maryland Economic Development Corp. to fund the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, in part financing the project with bonds that the school system would pay back at an interest rate of about 5.5 percent.

What's new: Washington County Commissioners and the Board of Education agreed Tuesday to support financing the project through a long-term operating lease. Officials said it was the most cost-effective option, and could be paid back at about a 4.6 percent interest rate. Most County Commissioners said they supported that option assuming that no money for the project come from Washington County taxpayers.

What's next: Board of Education members said they would meet to discuss their options and be in touch with the County Commissioners as the plan to fund the school moves forward.

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