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Study to determine what's best for Bester

School board moves up study to analyze renovation vs. replacement

August 05, 2010|By JULIE E. GREENE
  • Bester Elementary School
File Photo,

Whether Bester Elementary School is renovated or replaced, school board officials want the school to have enough classrooms to maintain smaller class sizes.

Under the state funding formula for school construction, the state is unlikely to support funding for the higher number of classrooms, meaning some of that cost could shift to Washington County, Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael said this week.

The Washington County Board of Education voted 7-0 Tuesday to approve educational specifications for Bester that call for a larger school.

The 74-page specifications document will be used by architectural firms when bidding to conduct a feasibility study that would determine whether modernizing and expanding the existing school or building a new school is the best approach, Michael said.

If a new school is recommended, the plan would be for it to be built on the same South End site of the current school. The study would look at the appropriateness of the more than 12-acre site, including whether there is enough space, Michael said.

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Michael said the $140,500 in county funding for the feasibility study wasn't scheduled until the 2011-12 fiscal year, but school board officials believe so strongly in the project that the school system is moving up the study and paying for it out of its own budget. Michael did not know whether the school board would ask to be reimbursed by the county.

The most recent estimated cost for the project was in the specs approved Tuesday, Michael said. That was $22,359,000, including $19.4 million for construction. The project is slated for completion by July 2014.

According to the county's latest capital improvements plan, the project would cost $23,985,400, including $21.1 million for construction. Of the $24 million, $12 million is expected to come from the state with the remaining funds coming from the county through excise tax revenue, the general fund and a tax-supported bond.

School system officials probably will ask the county if they can get some of the construction money a year early, in fiscal 2011-12, so architectural and engineering work can get started, Michael said.

Construction could start as early as the second half of 2012, if the school board can get the architectural funds early, Michael said.

Specifications for Bester call for a four-round school, which means there would be four classrooms for each grade level. Depending on the school's population and projected enrollment at the time the school system submits funding request documents, the state might only fund a 3 to 3.5-round school, said Michael and Chad Criswell, senior project manager and planning supervisor.

The state funding formula takes into consideration class sizes of 23 students for grades one to five, 22 students for kindergarten, 20 students for prekindergarten and 10 students for special education, Criswell said.

Bester has a class size lower than the state average that education officials want to maintain because it is a Title 1 school, Michael and Criswell said.

A school qualifies to be Title 1 when at least 55 percent of its students are enrolled in the free and reduced-price meal program, according to the educational specifications. That meal program is used as a measure of poverty.

The county's capital improvements plan has the Bester project funded as a four-round school. If state officials determine it should be a three-round school, county officials would have to decide whether they want to fund it at the four-round level or drop it to funding for a three-round school, County Administrator Greg Murray said. The matter probably will be discussed at the beginning of 2011 when school board and county officials begin budget discussions for the next fiscal year, he said.

School board President Wayne Ridenour and Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said Tuesday they were thrilled the Bester project was moving forward.

Education officials have talked about renovating or replacing Bester for more than a decade, but the project kept getting delayed.

"It was an old school when I went to middle school there," Ridenour said during Tuesday's board meeting.

Bester basically consists of two permanent buildings: the original 1930 two-story building that was renovated in 1988 and a single-story addition built in 1965. The original building is in the Hagerstown historic district and was designated as worthy of preservation by the Maryland Historical Trust, according to the education specs.

Michael said the historic interest lies more in the facade of the 1930 building than the entire building. If the study recommends a new school, the school system probably wouldn't have to preserve the whole building, he said.

Whether or not a new school is recommended, the anticipation is the 1965 building would be demolished, Michael said. The building's foundation has settled and there are cracks in the floor, which slants left or right in places, he said. The building is not in danger of collapsing, he said.

Bester also has several portable classrooms, according to the specs.

The specs call for the new Bester to have 34 classrooms, six intervention rooms and a gym, with the possibility of it being an oversized community gym. The study also would examine the option of moving the school's entrance from South Potomac Street to Mill Street.

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