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Berkeley County school board might buy Spring Street property

December 08, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Board of Education might end up buying a building from the county government after backing away from purchasing the old John Street School that was sold at auction last month, officials said.

School district superintendent Manny P. Arvon confirmed Friday that he and board members this week toured the county's Spring Street property, which was pulled from the auction when bids failed to meet a minimum asking price.

Arvon said he still needs the school board's approval, but thinks members would be "pleased" with the more than 23,000 square feet of space in the brick building at the corner of East King and Spring streets, which formerly housed the county prosecuting attorney's office.

"We were very impressed with the structure," Arvon said. The John Street School, which was purchased by the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston, would have required "millions of dollars" for the school district to use it, the superintendent said.

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"There's no comparison between the two facilities," Arvon said.

Though Arvon envisioned a number of unspecified uses for the space, he anticipates further negotiations with the county and indicated he had not reviewed the plat for the property, which includes parking.

Berkeley County's administrative legal counsel Norwood Bentley said at the County Commission's meeting Thursday that the county is allowed by law to sell the building to another government entity without any of the restrictions that come with private sector transactions.

Arvon on Friday did not directly acknowledge the school district's $750,000 offer, which commissioners discussed favorably during their Thursday meeting.

County Commissioner Ronald K. Collins said proceeds from the building's sale would pay off the county's $292,000 debt on the property, and any additional money would be earmarked for retiring the county's payments on the new government complex off South Raleigh, West Stephen and South streets.

While projected revenues are about $2 million shy of projections in the current fiscal year, Collins said the county's approximate $1 million-per-month payroll for employees is having more of an impact on the county's budget than required debt payments for consolidation of judicial and county administration offices.

Collins said county officials have not filled three vacancies in the planning and engineering departments and believes the county can weather the budget pinch without taking drastic measures "if everybody cooperates" on belt tightening measures.

"We're trying to protect two things - payroll and people," Collins said.

Collins said investments in technology for the county's planning and engineering departments made possible when the housing market was booming will help the county become even more efficient in years ahead.

When installed early next year, a new software system for the engineering department is expected to allow property owners to apply for permits and pay fees on the Internet, Collins said. The department's staff also will be able to communicate their work to databases from project sites, he said.

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