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Several housing options being looked into for Washington County Public Schools' operations

December 08, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • WCPS Dir. of Maintenance & Operation, Mark Mills, stands where two buildings are positioned next to each other creating a skinny long makeshift corridor at the WCPS Central Office.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

The estimated costs of several long-term options to house Washington County Public Schools’ operations based at a Commonwealth Avenue complex range from an estimated $4 million to buy a former power company building to $16 million to build a new facility, although those figures are not complete, according to a report being presented publicly to the school board Tuesday.

Two lease options reviewed for the study range from $400,000 per year to $1.9 million per year, according to the report prepared with information from school system facilities and maintenance officials and experts the school system consulted.

Two nonschool system buildings included in the report are the former Allegheny Energy headquarters off Downsville Pike and the former Action Products building at 22 N. Mulberry St., on the edge of downtown Hagerstown.

The report, which includes renovation options for the current main administrative complex, does not include any recommendations about what the school board should do.

A limited study of options with all cost estimates being preliminary, the report will be presented to the Board of Education during Tuesday’s 1 p.m. business meeting at the school system’s main administrative complex at 820 Commonwealth Ave.

The options should be investigated more rigorously before a final decision is made, the report states.

The report does not specifically address the administrative offices on Frederick Street that house some facilities planning and maintenance operations.

The school board does not have to take action on the report. In fact, when the board voted unanimously in June to charge Superintendent Clayton Wilcox to investigate long-term options for housing the school system’s administrative offices, board member Justin Hartings said the board didn’t have to do anything with the superintendent’s results.

But Hartings, who drafted the resolution, said at the time, “I think we need to make sure we’re not throwing good money after bad.”

The amount of deferred maintenance for the administrative offices has come up periodically in recent years, especially when the board discusses its annual capital project priorities for which it requests county and state funds.

The administrative centers, including a nearby building at 701 Frederick St., had an estimated $4,757,000 in deferred maintenance as of June, although most of that is for the Commonwealth Avenue complex.

The board’s resolution calls for not using any school system funds for maintenance at the school system’s Commonwealth Avenue complex without board approval. The superintendent can approve repairs for emergency conditions affecting critical functions.

There was no cost for the report, not counting staff hours, school system spokesman Richard Wright said.

Among the experts consulted was Harry Reynolds, a professional engineer and former president of a local general contractor, whom Wright said did not charge a fee for his services.


The options

The board’s resolution charged the superintendent to investigate renovation and continued maintenance of the existing Commonwealth Avenue complex, renovation of part of the existing facility, other school system facilities, other facilities that are not a part of the school system, new facilities, and public-private partnerships for the purpose of creating new or renovated administrative office or support facilities.

Given the parameters of a Class A or B office building with at least 75,000 square feet and 300 parking spaces, McShea & Co. identified the former Allegheny Energy and Action Products buildings, the report states.

The Action Products building has enough space, but it is Class C space and there are only 60 on-site parking spaces, the report states. If upgraded, the space could lease for at least $400,000 per year for Class B space, up to $1.9 million per year for Class A office space. This building is not for sale.

The former power company building has more than enough space for current needs, but has issues such as design and security — if part of the building was leased by someone else — that would need to be investigated, the report states.

Building a new facility, whether in the area of the school bus lot at the Commonwealth Avenue site or at a new site, would cost $13 million to $16 million, the report states. Those figures include $11 million to $13 million for construction, and additional costs for architectural and engineering services, furnishings and contingencies. The cost of purchasing property is not included.

Two renovation scenarios were considered, including a general renovation of the complex at an estimated cost of $11.6 million. That does not include an estimated $1.3 million for temporary offices over a four-year period during renovations.

The other renovation option calls for demolishing the original 1938 section of the complex that is two stories and about 10,000 square feet, replacing it with a new 19,800-square-foot, two-story addition. This option would cost more than $14 million.

While the report doesn’t make an overall recommendation, it states that three of the four other school system facilities considered are not suitable, while the fourth — Conococheague Elementary School — is remote and does not have public water or sewer. Renovating the school, which is scheduled to close in 2016, into administrative offices, including extending public utilities, would cost an estimated $9.5 million.

The other three system buildings considered were the former Job Development Center near Smithsburg (too small and would need renovating), Winter Street Elementary School in Hagerstown’s West End (design not conducive to office space retrofit and lacks parking) and Bester Elementary School (will be demolished to make way for play fields, parking and driveways for the new Bester Elementary School), according to the report.

Regarding investigating public-private partnerships, the report states the Greater Hagerstown Committee’s Board of Education Downtown Task Force “has been investigating various ideas for a downtown office building.”

Greater Hagerstown Executive Director James Kercheval said Thursday the task force’s report is expected to include possible locations, costs and various public-private financing partnerships available.

Kercheval said he hopes the final report will be ready in the next 30 to 60 days.

The report focuses on the school system’s administrative offices, but the information could be used to help any corporate entity of a similar size looking to locate downtown, he said.


Existing offices

The report notes the Commonwealth Avenue complex is made up of seven different buildings, though an aerial view as well as a tour of the complex indicate it is made of even more buildings, some of which are linked with winding or makeshift corridors. Some offices are in remote sections of the complex in spaces that were not originally meant to serve as offices.

The oldest section is a 1938 building constructed by the National Youth Administration as a recreation center, the report states. That section houses the offices for the top administrators, including the superintendent.

The 1938 section has been updated, but not completely renovated, said Mark Mills, director of maintenance and operations. Over the years, new drywall was put up in a hallway, the superintendent’s bathroom was added and carpeting was replaced, he said. But the original walls still stand and the HVAC system has not been updated, he said.

The report states the complex also consists of buildings constructed in 1966 and 1969, though Mills mentioned two metal buildings constructed in 1946 are part of the complex. The metal buildings once housed vocational programs for school system students and adults, Mills said. The current mailroom now is in part of that area.

The report notes offices also are housed in former storage and maintenance sheds and in defunct television studios.

“A web of connecting corridors, mechanical and electrical systems, ramps, and continually re-purposed spaces challenge the efficiency of the administrative functions,” the report states.

According to the school system, 159 employees work regularly at the Commonwealth Avenue complex.

Since Wilcox reorganized some positions, moving some people based at the Commonwealth Avenue offices to schools, some of the remaining personnel at the complex were moved this summer from remote offices to ones that were closer to the colleagues with whom they work, according to school system spokesman Richard Wright and a recent tour of the complex.

The office for the supervisor of health and physical education/athletics was near the mailroom, but was moved closer to his direct supervisor and the colleagues with whom he works, Wright said.

The custodial staff’s office had been in a basement room that, shown during the tour, could best be described as a large closet. That staff now has more space in a paneled office.

Employees occasionally would use the board auditorium for exercise, Wright said.

Now, a former storage vault is set up for exercise, school system officials said. The room contains some exercise materials, but no large exercise equipment. The historical drawings that were stored in that area now are kept at the Frederick Street offices, Mills said.

School system officials continue to move operations around the complex in an effort to make things more efficient, Wright said. The human resources department is near the front entrance, but new employees must walk a labyrinth of corridors to get to the back where they are fingerprinted, Wright said. System officials are trying to find a way to move the fingerprinting operation closer to human resources, he said.

The complex also has asbestos and lead paint, lacks a central fire alarm or sprinkler system, and has many handicapped-accessibility deficiencies, the report states. 

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• The report can be found under the BoardDocs section of the school system’s website at www.wcps.k12.md.us.

Editor's note: This story was edited Dec. 11, 2012, to correct consultant Harry Reynolds' name.

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