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School board takes steps to study condition of Commonwealth Ave. complex

Washington County Public Schools officials will develop specifications for office space for administrative, instructional and operational services now housed there

December 11, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

After hearing about long-term options to house Washington County Public Schools’ operations during Tuesday’s school board meeting, board members took steps to get more information and give people the opportunity to learn about the Commonwealth Avenue complex’s condition.

School system officials will develop specifications for office space for the operations now housed at the Commonwealth Avenue complex, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said.

Wilcox said, if the board sees fit, a work session will be scheduled, perhaps in February, for the board and staff to share what they think is needed for the office space. He said there also are several interested private developers who might want to sit in on the workshop.

By then, the school system should have a report from a Greater Hagerstown Committee group regarding public-private partnership options when it comes to long-term housing for the administrative, instructional and operational services now at the complex, Wilcox said.

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Also, tours will be arranged and perhaps invitations issued for other elected officials and interested community members to see the Commonwealth Avenue facility, Wilcox said after listening to board members comment on a report presented publicly at Tuesday’s meeting.

The report, which included input from a professional engineer who used to be president of Callas Contractors, listed several long-term solutions for the Central Office operations.

Those options range from renovating the complex — made up of several aging buildings, to buying or leasing space at a privately owned building, to constructing a new building.

The price tags range from $4 million to buy the former Allegheny Energy headquarters building on Downsville Pike to $16 million to build a new facility, though those estimated costs are not complete.

School Board President Justin Hartings asked consultant Harry Reynolds to summarize the status of the Central Office complex.

“In summary, of all the buildings that I’ve been in, that is one of the worst buildings that I think I’ve walked through,” Reynolds said, drawing some laughs.

“Don’t sugarcoat it, please,” board member Wayne Ridenour said.

“I don’t think you have any alternative but to abandon that building,” Reynolds said.

“As a taxpayer, I would not put a nickel into that building,” said Reynolds, who retired as president of Callas Contractors six years ago.

“You have some major issues,” including handicap-accessibility, hazardous material, and ventilation and indoor air quality, Reynolds said.

The school system could save an estimated $60,000 to $80,000 a year in heating costs with a properly designed building, he said.

“I could go on here for an hour,” Reynolds said.

Hartings said he wasn’t sure he had been to every office in the Commonwealth Avenue complex. He said he found many of the pictures included in the report to be “illuminating.”

“Some of the pictures show conditions that you’re not happy seeing in a building where we expect our employees to work. At least I wasn’t happy,” Hartings said.

Hartings used the term “tortured path” when referring to the footage he saw of a video The Herald-Mail took showing two walking tours of the Central Office’s layout.

While Hartings said the board doesn’t have to do anything about the complex now or in the next year, it can’t be naive about the situation and the problem needs to be addressed in the “relatively mid-term.”

Reynolds said the building is not on the verge of collapse.

“My fear is ... every time this issue comes up it becomes controversial and all of a sudden we just say, ‘Well, it’s our dump. ... It’s a dump, but it’s ours,’” Ridenour said.

“At some point something bad is going to happen. You say it’s not on the verge of collapse. But I, I still think there are areas of this building that are not healthy. That, you know, if somebody gets a burr in their saddle, calls OSHA and says ‘You know I bet we have some mold or other issues in here,’ you know, we lose a quarter of the building ... to a federal regulator,” Ridenour said.

“I think now it’s up to us to have some, you know, to be resolute that we’re going to do something, that we’re going to, to take some action and not just let this get shuffled under Common Core and everything else,” said Ridenour, referring to a more rigorous curriculum being implemented in schools.

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