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School for the Arts in Hagerstown takes its first steps

November 14, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - North Hagerstown High School seniors Leah Beachley and Mary Schultz say the opening of a performing arts high school in downtown Hagerstown will be one year too late.

The girls, who perform in the school's honors string quartet, said they would gladly have enrolled in the school.

Members of the class of 2013 will be the first students able to audition for their place in the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts when it opens in 2009.

On Tuesday, Hagerstown, Washington County and school system officials celebrated the start of renovations to the school site on South Potomac Street in Hagerstown.

The building housed the former Henry's Theater and the Elks Lodge until it was donated by Vincent Groh for the purpose of housing an arts school named after his late wife, Barbara Ingram.

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The school will be a regular high school for 300 students, with specialized programs in music, art and dance for students with interest and talent in the arts.

"It's an affirmation, not only of Hagerstown and Washington County, but the bright future of our students," Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said that the opening of the performing arts school, which will be in the city's arts and entertainment district, will add to the offerings there.

Several County Commissioners, Board of Education members and State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick also attended the ceremony.

Grasmick said that often students who are involved in arts programs have higher achievement in their academic studies.

"The arts facilitate academic performance," she said.

Commissioners President John F. Barr credited the opening of the school with collaboration among local and state officials.

However, the project is a first for this area, and will be the only performing arts high school west of Baltimore. That distinction and the creative financing needed to open the school has caused some controversy, Morgan said.

Tom Janus, former candidate for the Board of Education, stood outside during Tuesday's ceremony as a silent protester against the school. He held a sign that read, "Big Note$ Wrong Music."

Morgan thanked the Board of Education for its "bravery" in moving forward with the controversial new project.

Washington County Public Schools will borrow about $8.3 million to renovate the building for the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts. That is about $3 million less than originally proposed to be spent.

The loan will be paid back over 20 years at an interest rate of 4.5019 percent, Chief Financial Officer Chris South has said. The agreement is with Bank of America Public Capital Corp., which offered the lowest of five bids to finance the school.

The school system will pay about $52,891 each month, or $634,692 each year, officials have said.

The project is the first in Maryland to pursue this type of alternative financing for public school construction, Board of Education President Roxanne R. Ober said.

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