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Residents express concern about proposed new elementary school

May 30, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN — Hagerstown residents voiced their concerns Wednesday night about the $1.5 million pricetag for land being considered for a new “West City” elementary school and how the new school would affect the academic performance of students at Winter Street Elementary School.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners recently approved the purchase of a 16.5-acre tract at the Hager’s Crossing housing development west of Hagerstown for the new elementary school that could replace Conococheague and Winter Street elementary schools.

Washington County Public Schools held the first of two public information sessions at Maugansville Elementary School to give the public a chance to ask questions and offer input about the proposed new school.

A second hearing will be held at 7 p.m. today at Pangborn Elementary School.

Denver Swaby, president of the Hager’s Crossing Homeowners Association, said he has concerns about the amount of money the county is planning to spend on the school site. Swaby said the tract was foreclosed on in 2010, and, at one point, he believes it could have been purchased for under $500,000.

A video at the beginning of the meeting emphasized the school system’s interest in developing advanced schools. The principal of Maugansville Elementary also talked about the modern features of that facility.

“Why can’t we do that to Winter Street (Elementary)?” asked Tammy Chaney, whose grandchild attends Winter Street. “Save some of that taxpayer dollars.”

Sam Tolbert said he is worried how some of the students at Winter Street Elementary struggle academically. Tolbert said he is concerned how those students will perform in a more “diluted” atmosphere at the new school.

Tolbert referred to a “Cadillac” school design, noting that “I can’t help believe that a Chevy might be sufficient.”

Glen Lattie, vice president of the Hager’s Crossing Homeowners Association, said many homeowners there are concerned about their home values. Lattie questioned school officials about the amount of student foot traffic that would be in Hager’s Crossing, and what kind of effect that would have on property values.

Pam Stevens, a longtime teacher at Winter Street Elementary, said the new elementary school will largely be a school for Hager’s Crossing families.

“If you’re worried about people walking in your neighborhood, it’s going to be your own kids. If you’re worried about the crime, it’s going to be your own kids,” Stevens said.

Deputy Superintendent of Schools Boyd Michael, one of a handful of school officials at the meeting, declined to talk in detail after the meeting about the price of the land. Michael said school officials worked on the purchase with county staff members, who would be more knowledgeable about the process.

But Michael said many potential sites were considered. He said it’s important to assess not only how much a piece of land costs, but how much it will cost to develop it.

“We have a very involved process,” he said.

Regarding property values, Michael said new schools are often an asset to a community, especially considering how the facilities can be made available to communities for after-school activities.

Although Conococheague Elementary Principal Nicole Paylor said she loves her school, she said it lacks adequate parking, space and air conditioning, and water at the school cannot be consumed.

“I’m very excited about the possibility of a new school,” Paylor said.

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