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BOE discusses timeline for closing Conococheague and Winter Street elementary schools

January 24, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Winter Street Elementary School is shown in this Herald-Mail file photo.
Herald-Mail file photo

Public information meetings are expected to be held for the Conococheague and Winter Street elementary school communities in March as plans get closer to merge the schools into a new “West City” elementary still to be built.

The ideal timeline for the process — which includes closing the two schools and continuing to include the new elementary school in future planning documents — was discussed Tuesday morning during a Washington County Board of Education Facilities Committee meeting at Conococheague Elementary.

Under the timeline discussed, the seven-member school board would vote in May whether to close Conococheague Elementary, off U.S. 40 west of Hagerstown, and Winter Street Elementary, in Hagerstown’s West End. A public hearing would be held in April.

Washington County Public Schools have included the closures and plans for a new school in its planning documents for at least three years, school system officials said.

Both elementary schools have overall ratings that list the facilities as inadequate. Conococheague was built in 1960, and Winter Street in 1953, but the latter underwent an addition and renovation in 1973, according to school system documents.

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Asked at what point the school system reaches the point of no return concerning closing the two older schools and building a new one, Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael said there are lots of places to bail out, but school system officials would need to develop an alternative solution.

Michael said the estimated cost of renovating Conococheague and Winter Street is $10 million more that the cost of building a new school.

The cost of building a new “West City” elementary is $18.6 million, not including the cost of buying the land, school system officials said.

School Board President Wayne Ridenour, who is a member of the Facilities Committee, said the students from the Conococheague and Winter Street school districts could easily fill a new elementary school, so it was premature to say whether redistricting would occur.

If redistricting were to occur for this project, Michael said school board members would probably want to have the redistricting decisions completed by the spring of 2015. That would give affected families more than a year to prepare, he said.

The proposed “West City” elementary is scheduled to open in 2016.
Washington County officials have sites in mind for the new school, Michael said. But school system officials would not discuss specific locations publicly.

Asked this week for information about the county’s search for land for the school, Washington County government spokeswoman Sarah Lankford Sprecher replied in an email Tuesday “that nothing is available for public disclosure at this time.”

Under the ideal timeline, the land for the new school would be purchased before the end of April.

Once dates and locations for the informational meetings are determined, Michael said the meetings will be publicized a variety of ways.

Not all affected families have students old enough to be in school yet, so officials might mail notices to residents in affected zip codes, Michael said.

Board member Donna Brightman, chairwoman of the Facilities Committee, said questions are already being raised in the community.

A rumor was circulating last week that Conococheague would close this year and its students would attend Winter Street in the fall, Michael said. That’s untrue, he said.

Before the public meetings are held, school system officials will meet with the school staffs to answer questions, Michael said.

School system officials could not say for certain whether jobs would be consolidated from merging the two schools.

Almost every school year officials have to reallocate resources to accommodate population changes at schools, Ridenour said.

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