Residents take county to task in plan to pay $1.5M for new school site

September 11, 2012|By DON AINES |

The Washington County Board of Commissioners took public comment Tuesday on a proposal to purchase 16.5 acres for $1.5 million for a new elementary school, and the comments were negative.

Three people spoke and all questioned the idea of purchasing the land behind Walmart from Hagers Crossing Multifamily LLC. The county would purchase the land for the Washington County Public Schools system to build West City Elementary.

The commissioners took no action on purchase of the property, but County Administrator Gregory Murray said he expects that to be on next Tuesday’s agenda.

“I hope and pray the purchase of this property by an LLC for $525,000 in November 2011 and sold to our county for $1.5 million can be renegotiated,” said Sally Hatch of Hagerstown.

“I perceive that this purchase is similar in concept to insider trading at the expense of county taxpayers,” Hatch said. 

“He’s going to be getting about $90,000 an acre,” Sonja Pereschuk of Hagerstown said of the seller. “The profit is just astounding.”

If the county agrees to purchase the land, the school system plans to close Winter Street and Conococheague elementary schools after the 2015-16 school year and open West City Elementary, The Herald-Mail has reported.

Although it has problems with its well water and has to bring in drinking water, Conococheague has about 15 acres of land, Pereschuk said. She asked if it would cost less than $1.5 million to extend municipal sewer and water service to the school.

“Overall, it would be more expensive to do that,” Murray said.

“I don’t understand why the county wants to close these two schools,” said Penny Nigh, a candidate for Hagerstown City Council. “It’s really concerning to me ... that they are moving so quickly they aren’t considering all the other options.”

School system officials have been talking about plans for a new “West City” elementary school since at least 2006.

“The proposed acquisition was predicated on a study that was completed by staff members from the county and Board of Education,” County Public Works Director Joseph Kroboth said at the beginning of the public hearing. The study looked at 22 sites in the area before narrowing that to five, he said.

“The staff report indicated this site is the most desirable site amongst all those evaluated,” he said.

The Herald-Mail reported in May that Hagers Crossing Multifamily had listed the price of the property at $2.4 million.

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