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Wash. Co. Comm. call on school board, design advisers to resolve issues

December 10, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County Public Schools officials have been sidestepping a committee of volunteer design advisers in the school construction planning process, according to Washington County Director of Special Projects Gary W. Rohrer.

School system staff generally do not present designs to the advisory committee until after they have been submitted to the Board of Education and the state Interagency Commitee on School Construction, and at that point it is effectively too late to make major changes, Rohrer told the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday.

As a result, most of the design and construction professionals who volunteer on the committee feel their time is wasted, and the county is wasting money to pay architects and project managers to attend the meetings, Rohrer said.

The Advisory School Design Review Commitee was created by state law in 2005 to add responsibility, oversight and accountability for money on school construction projects costing more than $2 million, said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, who was at the meeting.

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Rob Rollins, acting executive director of school operations, said there often isn't time to get designs to the advisory committee before it goes to the other review boards because there is such a small window of time between funding approval and Interagency Committee deadlines. 

However, he said, sending designs to the state does not preclude the advisory committee from making comments that can be included in the documentation.

On an average project, the advisory committee meets four to five times and makes about a dozen comments, but very few of these lead to any changes, Rohrer said.

As examples, committee member Harry Reynolds cited the committee's recommendation to use all masonry building for Rockland Woods Elementary School instead of insulated panels and its comments on the expense of using standing seam roofs on the three new schools that opened this year. The committee was told it was too late to make the suggested changes, Reynolds said.

Robert Spong, facilities planning manager, told the commissioners that school board staff and the Rockland Wood architect took the committee's comments on all masonry building to heart, but decided metal panels were the best option based on fiscal realities. Officials are conducting a cost analysis of various roofing systems in preparation for the next schools to be built, Spong said.

Rohrer suggested the county seek legislation either dissolving the committee or requiring it to review projects earlier in the process.

The commissioners asked the parties involved to work toward improving the process and report back in the future. In addition, Commissioner James F. Kercheval said the commissioners could try to sign off on funding for major projects further in advance to allow more time for review.

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