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Washington County school board votes to close Winter Street and Conococheague elementary schools

August 07, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • WInter Street Elementary
Herald-Mail file photo

The Washington County Board of Education voted 5-1 Tuesday to close Winter Street and Conococheague elementary schools after the 2015-16 school year, upon completion of a new “West City” elementary school.

Board member Justin Hartings said the board’s decision to close Winter Street Elementary was not a decision to tear down the school, which might be used for another purpose.

He said former school buildings are used throughout the county for other purposes, such as day-care facilities and karate lessons.

Much of the community opposition to the closings has been about Winter Street, a neighborhood school in Hagerstown’s West End to which students walk or are driven to by a parent or guardian.

During the citizen-participation portion of the meeting, before the vote to close the schools, Debra Shrader presented a petition signed by 139 people opposing the closing of Winter Street Elementary.

The petition states the school system failed to notify the Winter Street community of the meeting concerning the proposed closing of Winter Street.

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School system spokesman Richard Wright said a note was sent home with students to notify parents about May public information sessions about the proposed closure. Those notes were sent home with students at 10 schools where students could be affected by the construction of a new elementary school, which would replace the two older elementary schools. The school system’s alert email system also was used to notify people of those meetings, and the public hearing in July was advertised in local newspapers, online and on Antietam Cable’s channel 99, he said.

The new elementary school is expected to be built in the Hager’s Crossing housing development behind Walmart. The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted in June to approve the $1.5 million purchase of a 16.5-acre site for the new school.

Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael said he recalled that the county did not want to hold a public hearing regarding the “West City” school site until after the school board voted to close the two elementary schools.

The county has not yet scheduled that public hearing, county spokeswoman Sarah Lankford Sprecher said. That hearing is for the expenditure of funds for the school site, the county attorney has said.

Board member Donna Brightman voted against closing the two elementary schools.

Brightman expressed multiple concerns. One was that bids to build a new Bester Elementary School came in about $4 million over budget and, while the project is being rebid, that could affect the timing of a new “West City” elementary school.

Brightman also expressed concerns about whether the county would have enough money for its share of the construction cost for a new “West City” school and about the possibility that space in the two older elementary schools could be needed if the state mandates prekindergarten.

Michael said support for state funding for “West City” is predicated upon the need for a school for the Winter Street and Conococheague student populations.

Hartings said trying to plan for every possible contingency down the road could lead to inaction.

“So I think what you do is you make the best plan you can, understanding that all of these situations are fluid,” Hartings said.

Board member W. Edward Forrest said the school board would be doing a disservice to students at Winter Street and Conococheague if it delayed the decision to close the schools.

Winter Street and Conococheague are aging schools that need a lot of work, school system officials have said.

This is the second time the school board has voted to close Conococheague Elementary. After the November 2002 vote to close the school, which is west of Hagerstown, the school remained open due to growing enrollment in the school system.

Board President Wayne Ridenour reminded people that bottled water has to be brought into Conococheague Elementary.

He said if the school’s sewer or septic system fails, it could cost the school system $1 million.

Ridenour said he finds the “West City” school attractive because it will have a significant population of students who will walk to school. The site also has infrastructure, such as water and sewer, available and the new school would have state-of-the-art amenities.

Rob Rollins, director of facilities planning and development, said after the board meeting that all of the walkers for “West City” would be from the Hager’s Crossing housing development.

Board member Karen Harshman was absent due to a previously planned vacation, but said at a July meeting that she would have voted against closing the two elementary schools.

How they voted

To close Winter Street and Conococheague elementary schools after the 2015-16 school year, upon completion of a new “West City” elementary school with a projected completion for the 2016-17 school year.

Wayne Ridenour, yes

Jacqueline Fischer, yes

Paul Bailey, yes

Donna Brightman, no

W. Edward Forrest, yes

Karen Harshman, absent

Justin Hartings, yes

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