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Washington County school board given list of 10 priority projects for next 12 years

Top three include new elementary schools in West Hagerstown and Sharpsburg

May 15, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

Replacing Sharpsburg Elementary School, developing a plan for the school system’s aging Central Office and addressing overcrowding at old middle schools were among the topics the Washington County Board of Education discussed Tuesday during a work session about future construction priorities.

Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael and planning officials presented the board with a list of 10 priority projects for the next 12 years. At the end of the work session, Michael said staff members would present a similar proposed Educational Facilities Master Plan to the board on June 5 for its approval.

A bigger Sharpsburg elementary school that would help take care of some of the growth driving the need for a new “South County” elementary school — a project that is still on the priority list, but has been pushed back six years — was the third highest priority on the proposed list.

The facilities master plan, which the school system must submit to the state by July 1, becomes the basis for the capital improvement plan, which is used to determine how much school construction money to request in the fall from the state and county.

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The top two projects on the proposed priority list are replacing Bester Elementary School, where construction is expected to begin this summer, and building a new “West City” elementary school.

Those projects aren’t surprises as they were listed as the second and third priorities in the current facilities master plan, behind finishing the new Ruth Ann Monroe Primary, which opened last summer.

Previously, phase 1 of a new South County elementary school was the priority after a new West City elementary, with projections calling for phase 1 of the South County school to open in August 2017.

Now that is the target date for a new Sharpsburg Elementary School to open.

School system officials said the initial idea is to see if land behind the current Sharpsburg school can be acquired to build a new school in the same area, but another site also is a possibility.

When board member Justin Hartings asked why officials were looking at the current site in Sharpsburg and not further east toward Keedysville, Rob Rollins, director of facilities planning and development, said the state encourages new schools to be built in urban or Smart Growth areas. But he said a bigger driving factor is the availability of water and sewer at the current site.

The new Sharpsburg Elementary School would have a 471-seat capacity, whereas the current school has a state-rated capacity of 252 seats, Rollins said.

After the meeting, Michael said there probably would be redistricting involved in opening a bigger Sharpsburg Elementary.

Sharpsburg Elementary opened in 1936 and had additions and renovations in 1967 and 1983, according to the master plan.

Board member Paul Bailey said addressing improvements at E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown’s South End was a higher priority for him than a new Sharpsburg Elementary.

Concerned about the middle school’s age and potential overcrowding, Bailey suggested alleviating possible overcrowding at Hicks, Springfield and Boonsboro middle schools by maintaining a sixth grade at Rockland Woods Elementary School.

School system officials said there is still growth expected in the elementary school level. Board member Jacqueline Fischer said there is also the possibility of systemwide prekindergarten in the future, so there could be a need for more seats at elementary schools.

Central Office future

After discussing several school projects, Hartings brought up the issue of the Central Office and the millions of dollars in deferred maintenance for the school system headquarters building off Commonwealth Avenue in Hagerstown.

School system officials need to be realistic about the work that needs to be done at the Central Office and develop a plan, whether that’s to renovate the existing building or go elsewhere, Hartings said.

Hartings said system officials need to be “honest with ourselves about the real risks we face if we continue to neglect this facility.”

In reviewing needed work at the building, Hartings said several systems are in such bad shape that if they failed, it would result in the immediate closure of the building.

While many say what happens at the Central Office doesn’t affect students, if payroll had to shut down for a week, or food services or the transportation department had to shut down, students would be affected, Hartings said.

In addition to reviewing the major facility projects, the proposed 2012 plan includes major systemic projects for fiscal 2013-14.

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