Year of building for the future at Washington County Schools

2012: A

New construction plans, new reading program and a new health services deal highlight year

December 27, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Cement pipes are shown being unloaded this past summer near the site of where the new Bester School will be built.
File photo

‘West City’ property

May 23-present — The Washington County Board of Commissioners voted May 23 to approve the purchase of a 16.5 acre tract in the Hager’s Crossing housing development, behind Walmart, for a new “West City” elementary school that will replace the aging Conococheague and Winter Street elementary schools.

The commissioners voted 3-2 to approve a sale contract for almost $1.6 million with Hagers Crossing Multifamily LLC that was contingent upon meeting legal requirements.

The school board voted on Aug. 7 to close Conococheague and Winter Street elementary schools after the 2015-16 school year, upon completion of a new “West City” elementary school. The new school could be big enough to ease overcrowding at neighboring elementary schools through redistricting.

On Sept. 18, the commissioners again voted 3-2 to buy the land behind Walmart for the new school. The disagreement was primarily over the cost of the 16.5 acres.

Before and after the commissioners voted to buy the land, the elected body took some public criticism over the purchase price for the land.

In October, the attorney for Hagers Crossing Multifamily said his clients, partners David Lyles and Doug Moul, were subjected to personal attacks and anonymous threats concerning the sale of the property for almost $1.6 million. Hagers Crossing Multifamily purchased the property from a holding company in 2011 for $525,000. Attorney Jason Divelbiss said the purchase price was for $900,000 less than the asking price for the land.

The school system is working on specifications for the new “West City” elementary school.

Central office

June 5-present — Washington County Public Schools system officials continued to investigate long-term options for housing the school system’s administrative offices.

On June 5, the Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution proposed by board member Justin Hartings, now board president, that gave the superintendent a Dec. 31, 2012, deadline to report to the board on several long-term solutions for housing the school system’s administrative offices.

There also has been a push, dating back at least 12 years, by community and business leaders for the school system to move its administrative offices to downtown Hagerstown to help revitalize the downtown.

The Greater Hagerstown Committee has a Downtown Task Force that has been investigating various ideas for a downtown office building for the school system.

While the board has not said it would necessarily take action on the options, at its Dec. 11 meeting board members took steps to get more information. Staff will create specifications for office space for the operations now housed at the Commonwealth Avenue administrative complex and the board might have a work session in February so its members and staff can share their thoughts on what they think is needed for the office space.

The Commonwealth Avenue complex consists of several older buildings, some dating to 1938, and has a mazelike layout. As of June, the administrative centers, including a nearby building at 701 Frederick St., had an estimated $4,757,000 in deferred maintenance, although most of that is for the Commonwealth Avenue complex.

The superintendent’s report, presented to the board on Dec. 11, included options ranging from an estimated $4 million to buy the former Allegheny Energy headquarters building on Downsville Pike to $16 million to build a new facility, possibly on the Commonwealth Avenue property. Cost estimates were not complete.

Nurses in schools

June 5 — The Washington County Board of Commissioners cut $3.3 million from a county health department program that provides nurses in public schools.

The commissioners rejected two other options to offset the $3 million the county needed to pay for its share of teacher pension costs. The state began passing along a share of teacher pension costs to local governments with the fiscal year that began July 1, 2012. The other two options the county administrator presented were to raise the property tax or taper off payments to the county employee pension fund.

As a result of the commissioners’ decision, the county health department on June 7 began to issue layoff notices to approximately 76 nurses and other health care workers at county public schools.

Washington County Public Schools and the health department reached a deal for the county health department to continue to provide health services for the 2012 summer school session.

In August, the school system reached a deal with Meritus Medical Center Inc. to provide school health services starting with the 2012-13 school year. The one-year deal has two possible one-year extensions.

The cost of the program for the first year, from Aug. 15, 2012, to Aug. 14, 2013, is not to exceed $2,737,458.

Summer reading program

July 2 — The Washington County Public Schools system started a new summer school program aimed at helping incoming second-graders who were reading below grade level catch up before the start of the new school year.

Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox has said the transition between second and third grades is an important time for youngsters, when students shift from learning to read to reading to learn.

The school system invited approximately 400 students to participate in the program, but only about 170 enrolled.

Wilcox said school system officials want to do something with summer reading this coming summer, but aren’t sure yet if they will re-create the same program.

One possibility is holding the program at more schools.

Some parents said families had difficulty getting up early enough to get to one of the program’s four sites last summer, Wilcox said. Expanding the number of sites also would reduce transportation costs, he said.

Last summer’s reading program was held at Rockland Woods Elementary, Bester Elementary, Salem Avenue Elementary, and Ruth Ann Monroe Primary School.

Building Bester

July 17-present — Construction continues on a new Bester Elementary School behind the existing Bester Elementary in Hagerstown’s South End.

On July 17, Washington County Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael told the Washington County Commissioners that bids for the new school construction came in about $4 million over budget. Initial project estimates were about $17.3 million.

The package of construction work was rebid, with the school system asking for bids for both prevailing wages and nonprevailing wages.

During an Aug. 28 Facilities Committee meeting, Michael said the second set of bids also came in over budget.

On Sept. 4, the school board delayed voting on construction bids.

During a joint meeting between the school board and Washington County Commissioners on Sept. 11, the commissioners voted unanimously to transfer $2.1 million in savings from past school capital projects to the school board to use for other capital projects.

County officials left it up to the school board to decide whether to use the transferred funds for school construction or major maintenance projects.

The county didn’t provide money for school capital maintenance in the current fiscal year’s budget as the county had reduced, eliminated, or pushed to later years capital funding requests from various agencies because of diminished funds in recent years due to economic conditions. But last spring the commissioners had discussed during budget talks the possibility of helping the school system fund capital projects once county officials saw whether there were savings from earlier school projects.

On Sept. 18, the school board voted unanimously to award contracts, paying nonprevailing wages, for construction of the new Bester school.

Work began in the fall to prep the site, including digging geothermal wells that will supply heating and cooling for the school and installing approximately 1,100 grout columns 25 feet to 30 feet deep as part of a special foundation system, due to soft soil in the area.

BOE election

Nov. 6 — Three incumbents and a political newcomer were elected to the Washington County Board of Education.

Incumbents Donna Brightman, Wayne Ridenour and Justin Hartings were re-elected. Retired school system employee Melissa Williams won the fourth spot, replacing board member W. Edward Forrest, who did not run for re-election.

In the nonpartisan race, five people ran for the four open seats on the seven-member board.

Local attorney Travis Poole failed in his first election bid to win a seat on the school board.

A month after the election, Hartings was voted in as the new president of the school board. Four board members voted for Hartings as president and three for Brightman.

The board president’s annual salary is $6,200, compared with $6,100 for other board members.

Editor’s note: As we usher out 2012 and welcome 2013, The Herald-Mail has prepared a package of year-end stories that provide short recaps of some of the top stories of the year past. These stories will be published through New Year’s Day.

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