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Washington Co. school system seeks $15.8 million for capital improvements

November 15, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The Washington County Board of Commissioners took a long view of school construction needs Tuesday, discussing land prospects for future schools with school officials and questioning whether the education of the future would even require brick-and-mortar buildings.

The topics arose during a joint session between the commissioners and the Washington County Board of Education held to discuss the school board’s capital improvement funding request for the next fiscal year.

The school system’s $15.8 million request for state and county funding for fiscal 2013 includes about $8.8 million that would go toward a replacement school for Bester Elementary School in Hagerstown, among other projects.

Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael said that the new Bester building might need renovation after 40 or 50 years, as he noted: “Will we still be in school buildings? I don’t know.”

That prompted Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham to ask Superintendent Clayton M. Wilcox if there were plans to look at the delivery model for education.

“Well, I think schools will always be gathering places, but will they be the sole source of (students’) education? Probably not,” Wilcox said. “You look at the smart design of some of our schools, and the technology that we include, and the technology that we then make available to the surrounding communities will be greatly different than we see today.”

Nevertheless, Michael said it is important to plan ahead by acquiring land for future school needs, including three more elementary schools and an East City High School.

During an earlier period of growth, the school system had anticipated opening an East City High School in 2018, but slower growth has pushed that to 2020, and it may be delayed even further, Michael said.

“It might be in five years, it might be in 10 years, it might be in 15 years, but based on our land study, we’re going to be locked out of land if we wait for a boom to come back, so I just think it’s the responsible thing to do, to continue to pursue land now while it’s relatively cheap,” Michael said.

Commissioners President Terry Baker reiterated his desire to see part of the Mount Aetna Farms land near Hagerstown Community College used for the East City High School site.

In May 2010, Baker made a motion to buy that land for a school, but the commissioners voted down the idea, 3-2. The land was later bought by the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF, for development as a high-tech business park.

“Today, I still think the opportunity for an East City High School site in that Mount Aetna Farms area should be considered and a possibility,” Baker said.

He stressed that the county’s commitment to building a $9.3 million extension of Yale Drive through the property will benefit CHIEF and other property owners in the area.

“I would think staff or someone should be negotiating with everyone who’s going to benefit (to see) if they all would just make a small contribution of land” for a school,” Baker said.

The county would need about 45 to 60 acres for a school, Michael said.

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