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Concerns raised about new 'West City' school project

Winter Street Elementary proponents were especially vocal about losing 'atmosphere' of school

July 17, 2012|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com
  • Janet Bartels shakes her fist trying to get her point across to Rob Rollins, Director of Faciliites and Development Planning for the Washington County Board of Education after a public hearing on the proposed school closings. Bartels says she is "opposed to the closing of Winter Street School as an educational facility."
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Five residents raised concerns Tuesday night about a proposal to close Winter Street and Conococheague elementary schools, some pointing to worries about ending the “community school” atmosphere at Winter Street.

Washington County Board of Education members are considering closing the schools and building a new “West City” elementary school, a project about which there also was concern.

Washington County Public Schools officials have emphasized the school system’s interest in developing advanced schools, and the Washington County Board of Commissioners recently approved the purchase of a 16.5-acre tract in the Hager’s Crossing housing development west of Hagerstown for the new elementary school.

The Board of Education held a public hearing Tuesday night on the proposal to close Conococheague and Winter Street that attracted about 15 people to the board’s central office.

Sam Tolbert, who has spent time around Winter Street, talked about the uniqueness of the school. Tolbert said there is a lot of poverty in the Winter Street neighborhood and the school system has invested a lot of resources into the school to make sure students there get what they need.

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Tolbert said at a previous meeting that he was concerned how Winter Street students would perform in a “diluted” atmosphere at the new school.

“It’s amazing to see,” Tolbert said of the educational process at Winter Street. “I’d hate to see the students lose that. Bigger is not always better,” he said.

Melissa Williams, a candidate for the Board of Education, also talked about the “community school” atmosphere at Winter Street and the importance of saving  it.

“County and city leaders seem anxious to relocate the Board of Education’s central office as a means to revitalize downtown Hagerstown. Why can’t we seize on this opportunity to build a new Winter Street neighborhood school based on the true concept of community schooling to help revitalize a neighborhood in need?” Williams asked.

Williams also said the $1.5 million price tag for the Hager’s Crossing land “seems excessive.”

Bill Knode, who grew up in the Winter Street neighborhood and taught school in the county for 26 years, told board members he was worried the atmosphere at Winter Street “will never happen again” if it is closed.

Knode said he also was worried how Winter Street students might be affected by a student population redistricting process if the new West City elementary is built.

The board of education is scheduled to vote Aug. 7 on the plan to close the two elementary schools.

Although Board of Education members did not respond to comments during the hearing, Board President Wayne Ridenour said after the hearing he thinks Board of Education members can address a lot of the concerns brought up by residents.

Ridenour said there is an “interesting dynamic” at Winter Street, but there is no way the county can get state funding to build a new Winter Street Elementary and a new Conococheague Elementary.

“I would just love to build schools where all the students are,” Ridenour said.

Ridenour said he does not know how the board will vote on the plan to close the two schools.

The public hearing started at 6:30 p.m. After four people spoke, the board decided to recess the hearing until 7 p.m. to give more people a chance to come speak.

At 7 p.m., one more resident, Janet Bartels of Hagerstown, spoke and expressed concerns about closing Winter Street Elementary.

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