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Bus policy, MELP and one more retail center

May 06, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

· Is the Washington County Public Schools considering requiring that students be picked up and dropped off at the same bus stop every day because of an October 2007 incident in which a 5-year-old was dropped off two miles from his home?

School Board member Bernadette Wagner says yes, but Supervisor of Transportation Barbara Scotto said, "That's not the case at all."

Why these two aren't on the same page is a concern, because crafting a new policy will require cooperation from everyone.

Parents are now allowed to arrange for their children to be dropped off at several different stops during the week and to ride a bus different from the one that normally transports the student.

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School Board candidate Justin Hartings said the proposed change is based on a "1940s family." Parents today need some flexibility because of changing work schedules and other needs, he said.

Other systems have dealt with similar problems. In April, the Chicago school system gave students who ride public transportation "smart cards" that enable school officials to keep a record of their travels.

How expensive would it be to implement something such as that here? That's unknown, but it would require a card-swiping reader on every bus.

School staff should at least explore some high-tech options. In the meantime, I recommend that if it's not already being done, schools require bus-ride changes to be cleared by parents a week ahead of time.

And until a better system can be worked out, there should be a temporary limit on the number of changed stops in a given week. Parents need a system that's convenient, but their children need one that will keep them safe.

· If you look at it now, an abandoned hulk with windows broken out, it's hard to believe that Hagerstown's Municipal Electric Light Plant was once a major political issue.

The plant and the city's distribution system were the object of several purchase offers from the Potomac Edison Power Co., now Allegheny Power.

The offers were rejected, but the plant didn't produce any power past the early 1970s, although efforts to prove it could be fired up again and provide economical power persisted through the 1980s.

Twelve years after it was purchased by Partners Marketing LLP in Staunton, Va., I doubt that, given the costs of demolition and/or site preparation, that too much will be done with the property anytime soon.

· The proposal to build yet another shopping center, this one at the northeast corner of the intersection of U.S. 40 and Interstate 70, raises some serious questions about ingress and egress and the road network in that area.

It appears access would come through two residential neighborhoods, along Day and Landis roads.

I haven't heard yet that the new center would have no effect on downtown Hagerstown, but someone is bound to say it.

The key question, however, is how the new center would affect the city's sewer capacity. It might be true, as some council members say, that downtown isn't going to attract a large, new department store. But there must be enough capacity in reserve so that when downtown development picks up steam again, those small specialty shops and new homeowners can flush their toilets.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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