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Taxpayers asked to back school bond issue

July 01, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Berkeley County taxpayers in a special election on Sept. 26 will be asked to shoulder a little more than half of an estimated $96.5 million in construction and renovation costs for four schools, including a new high school at Spring Mills.

If voters authorize the Berkeley County Board of Education to issue $51.5 million in bonds, the owner of a home with an appraised value of $100,000 would see a net increase of about $34 on their residential (Class II) property tax bills in 2010, school officials said Wednesday.

The gross $43.56 increase to tax bills (per $100,000 in appraised value) from the new school construction debt next year would be offset by the final payment on 1995 school bonds this year, said James Welton, the school board's financial consultant.

If the bond issue is approved in September, the school district is guaranteed to receive a $25 million grant from the state School Building Authority (SBA) for the proposed Spring Mills Area High School, Superintendent Manny P. Arvon II said. The county's fourth high school is estimated to cost about $53.5 million.

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"It's our hope that in addition to the $25 million (SBA grant), over the period of construction of the other three projects that we would approach the School Building Authority for additional grants in the amount of $20 million," Arvon said Wednesday during the school board's regular meeting.

The other three projects are Mountain Ridge Area Middle School near Gerrardstown, W.Va. ($20 million), a major addition at Musselman High School in Inwood, W.Va. ($7 million) and a major renovation and expansion at Martinsburg North Middle School ($16 million).

The high school project would be the first constructed, possibly in the spring of 2010.

With 115 portable classrooms now in place at schools to accommodate overflow student capacity and 18 more on the way, Arvon said the school district's need for additional instructional space was critical.

The state SBA's commitment of $25 million for the new high school if the taxpayers approve the bond issue, and the possibility of landing $20 million for the other projects is "a big carrot being held out there by the state," Board President William F. "Bill" Queen said.

Queen said he was "very optimistic" voters would approve the bond issue.

Architect Gregory A. Williamson provided board members with an overview of each school project Wednesday night.

o Spring Mills Area High School would be built on the northern Berkeley County campus off U.S. 11 and W.Va. 901, where work is under way to build a new primary school. Williamson said the 228,000-square-foot school's layout is a "derivative" of Musselman High School's design and could feature an exterior neocolonial/classical conceptual style that would match the primary and middle schools there.

The preliminary design also includes space for a school/public library such as the one at Musselman High School, Williamson said.

o Mountain Ridge Area Middle School would be built and furnished to house about 600 students in 84,000 square feet next to the existing intermediate school with a design similar to Spring Mills Middle School, Williamson said.

o Musselman High School would include an estimated 30,000-square-foot addition for 20 classrooms, including four for science laboratories and support spaces, faculty planning rooms, restrooms and elevator access.

"It could possibly be a two-story addition," Williamson said.

o Martinsburg North Middle School's addition would be very similar to the Musselman High School project, including a number of classrooms and science labs. About $7.5 million in renovations include new sprinkler and HVAC systems, electrical and fire-alarm upgrades, replacement of ceilings, windows, gym floor, some interior and exterior doors, restroom and locker room improvements, and new kitchen and dining room additions.

"There is some asbestos that will need to be abated as part of this work," Williamson said.

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