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Tract of land in Hager's Crossing approved for 'West City' school

Washington County Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a sale contract, with a $1.5 million purchase price

May 22, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • The Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved the purchase of a 16.5-acre tract in the Hager's Crossing housing development for a new "West City" elementary school that could replace Conococheague and Winter Street elementary schools.
By Chad Trovinger, Graphic Artist

The Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved the purchase of a 16.5-acre tract in the Hager’s Crossing housing development for a new “West City” elementary school that could replace Conococheague and Winter Street elementary schools.

The commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a sale contract, with a $1.5 million purchase price, for the site contingent upon meeting legal requirements.

Commissioners John Barr, Ruth Anne Callaham and William McKinley voted in favor of the contract, while Commissioners President Terry Baker and Commissioner Jeff Cline voted against it.

The county can back out of the contract if officials change their mind about the site after studying it, said Joseph Kroboth, the county public works director.

The land — which is behind Walmart in Hagerstown’s West End near dozens of homes in the housing development — is owned by Hager’s Crossing Multifamily, which has a $2.4 million listing price for the property, Kroboth said.

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The property, now covered by brush and grass, is along Hager’s Crossing Drive with the city limits to the north, Buell Court to the east, and Sedgwick Way and what appears to be more undeveloped property to the west.

The property owner had received approval for 240 residential condominium or apartment units for the site, Kroboth told the commissioners.

Baker expressed concern about the loss of revenue to the county if the property is used for a school rather than residential units. There would be the loss of property tax revenue from the residential units, and no fees from water and sewer hookups, and the city would also lose tax revenue, Baker said.

In a telephone interview Tuesday night, Cline said he voted against the sale contract because he thought the purchase price was too high.

Given the lagging economy, it would have taken a decade to sell the planned homes for that land, he said.

Cline said he also was concerned about Winter Street students no longer having a neighborhood school to which they could walk. Property behind Winter Street Elementary could possibly be purchased to build a new school in the area of the current site, he said.

Cline said Conococheague has needed a new school for about 10 years, but he wanted to hear what that school’s community wanted since the current school is in a rural area.

During the meeting, Cline asked Kroboth if the planned residential units could be transferred to another parcel in that area.

If the property owner wanted to do that, it would have to go through Hagerstown’s planning review process, Kroboth said.

The county would have to have a public hearing regarding the expenditure of funds for the school site, County Attorney John Martirano said. Then, the commissioners would have to approve spending the money before the county buys the land, he said.

That hearing is not yet scheduled.

Hager’s Crossing Multifamily requested a $25,000 deposit, which would be applied toward the purchase price but would be returned to the county if it backs out of the contract, Kroboth said.

He said there will be a 90-day study period to evaluate the property and concept, including working with the Washington County Board of Education for its recommendations.

That study period can be extended by 30 days twice, at a cost of $5,000 each time, Kroboth said.

If the county exercises its option to extend the study period, that money — up to $10,000 — would not be applied toward the purchase price, and Hager’s Crossing Multifamily would keep the money if the county backs out of the purchase contract, Kroboth said.

The county’s share associated with the contract also include $56,500 for closing costs, plus 2 percent of the purchase price, or $30,000, as a payment to the real estate broker, Kroboth said.

That brings the total possible cost of the property to $1,596,500.

Site search

In searching for a site, county officials started with 22 possibilities and worked down to five finalists, Kroboth said.

Those finalists were graded based on several factors with the recommended site receiving the highest ranking, he said.

Of the five finalists, only the recommended site and one other site were in the state’s priority funding area, an important factor because the state pays for a large percentage of school construction, Kroboth said.

The other finalist that was in a state priority funding area also was in Hager’s Crossing, just west of the recommended site, according to presentation documents.

The other three sites were one along Broadfording Road, north of Hager’s Crossing; on property between U.S. 40, McDade Road and Md. 144; and north of U.S. 40 and Swann Road, and east of McDade Road.

Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael said the school system is tentatively planning a public hearing regarding the possible closing of Conococheague and Winter Street elementary schools for June 19.

The tentative date for the school board to vote whether to approve closing the two schools is July 17, he said.

The school system is hosting public information sessions about the proposed new school and the closure of the older two elementary schools next week. Those 7 p.m. meetings will be May 30 at Maugansville Elementary School, and on May 31 at Pangborn Elementary School.

Winter Street Elementary is landlocked in Hagerstown’s West End, and Conococheague is off U.S. 40, west of Hagerstown.

There is a possibility redistricting could occur with the opening of the new West City school.

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