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Community deserves applause for arts school

October 14, 2007|By TOM RIFORD

I believe the entire community will benefit, and should be pleased to see our governmental leaders taking the positive step forward on a project that is good for our community. As a community cheerleader and supporter, I am glad to see the project's approvals, and to learn about the scheduled upcoming key-turning (groundbreaking) for the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts in downtown Hagerstown.

This long-awaited project is about more than just offering a new educational opportunity for our county's children (but thank you to the elected school board and staff for the vision and perseverance that is making the project a reality). I firmly believe that this project is good for everyone: good for downtown Hagerstown, good for the Arts and Entertainment District, good for arts in the entire community and good for business.

I agree with the statement that the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts is also about partnerships that will make delivering education to our children less expensive and more efficient in the long run.

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Thanks also to the Washington County Free Library, which has announced that the library will be the media center for the new school. Thank you to the University System of Maryland-Hagerstown center, which will provide classroom space for the new school. Thank you to the Maryland Theatre, which will be a training ground for prospective performing arts students. There are many more partnerships, including the ones I have mentioned, that make solid economic sense for the delivery of education.

Hooray for the organizations and government elements that put aside some issues and views and they took a look at a different approach to delivering public education. Because of your efforts, Washington County is on the leading edge of statewide changes in the way that public education is delivered.

Let us never forget that the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts is also about redevelopment of the urban core of Hagerstown. The school will bring 300 students and 25-plus staff and teachers into our downtown at least 180 days each year. That is an economic engine that will help other redevelopment in our Arts and Entertainment District. Hooray for the City of Hagerstown for recognizing the impact of this school and for throwing support behind public education - even if it is not the specific responsibility of the City of Hagerstown's leadership.

This project, which is very close to hosting its ceremonial groundbreaking, is also about a community seeing a challenge, recognizing it as an opportunity and moving forward toward a positive outcome. This project is also about our community's self-esteem. I spoke recently at a service-club program, about what The Herald-Mail has called our community's "backwards lament." This lament is: "We used to be good, but we aren't good any more." Sometimes I have called this a "pathological modesty" of our community - even in the face of so much that is truly great about this community.

It's true that we don't have the downtown businesses that used to be here 30 years ago, but how great it is that this Barbara Ingram School for the Arts is moving forward, just as other great projects have moved forward here: the refurbished Schindel-Rohrer Building, the new University System of Maryland campus, Don Bowman's South Potomac Street redevelopment project and many other wonderful and positive developments that bring jobs and investment in our community.

If we allow the negative "backwards lament" to go unchecked, if we succumb to believing that we will never be a good community, we might as well let all the buildings rot, as they collect dust and broken windows. I'm glad that some forward-thinking people had a vision, and decided to move forward with it; I believe it's better than the alternative.

I also agree with the statistics that show a strong arts educational program, especially focused with specialized fine arts concentrations, results in increased SAT scores. I have read with pleasure about the positive results in students' performances in the performing arts school where my brother teaches in another state.

The Barbara Ingram School for the Arts is also about a new funding paradigm for public education. The cost of new educational facilities is skyrocketing - we all know this. The traditional method of funding new educational facilities (a cooperative between state and local governments to pay capital costs) is not really able to keep up with the requirement. I say: Hooray for the elected Board of Education and the County Commissioners for the open-mindedness in seeking an alternative funding method. It should be praised that alternatives were examined, explored, and a new plan was moved forward.

Hooray for the community as a whole. Let's keep moving forward with a vision for Hagerstown and Washington County. There's so much that's good here, with five national parks, eight state parks, more than 30 county/city parks, 35 museums, wonderful retail and dining opportunities and choices, new higher educational opportunities, new businesses - and now a project that will help bring new life to an empty building, which will bring visitors to Hagerstown, and will create positive economic impact all while helping deliver new opportunities for the students in Washington County.

Tom Riford is president and CEO of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

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