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WCPS chief: Anyone interested in pitching a site for headquarters must act soon

Majority of Washington County Board of Ed members say they aren't leaning towards any particular location for new administrative offices

February 20, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • The former Allegheny Energy headquarters site at 10435 Downsville Pike is pictured in this Herald-Mail file photo. The Washington County Board of Education has entered into a purchase agreement for the former Allegheny Energy headquarters site.
Herald-Mail file photo

Now that the Washington County Board of Education has entered into a purchase agreement for the former Allegheny Energy headquarters site, other parties interested in pitching a site for the school system’s administrative offices need to meet with school system officials within the next few weeks, Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said Wednesday.

On Tuesday night, the board voted unanimously to enter into a $5.5 million purchase agreement for the 10435 Downsville Pike property, but did not commit to buying the property. The agreement with the owners, a family in India, provides a 45- to 78-day window for the school system to have the property evaluated.

Any group with a possible site should be “deep in some conversation” with school system officials in the next 15 to 30 days, Wilcox said since the school board will need to make a decision about the Downsville Pike property.

The board has the option of extending the initial 45-day window of opportunity on the Downsville Pike property by 33 days at a cost of $50,000.

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By Wednesday afternoon, a day after Hagerstown’s mayor and City Council encouraged the board to relocate to downtown Hagerstown, no other groups had scheduled a meeting with the school board, Wilcox said.

Wilcox said he met Wednesday with Tim Henry, who chaired a Greater Hagerstown Committee task force that evaluated downtown sites for the school board or a similar-sized entity. Wilcox said he hopes to meet again with Hagerstown City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman and to meet with Washington County Administrator Greg Murray. He also said he believed at least two private developers had indicated they wanted to talk to the school system.

Wilcox said he didn’t know if any initial conversations with private developers would be public, but that meetings between private developers and the school board would be held in public just like Tuesday’s meeting with the city.

While a majority of school board members said Wednesday they are not leaning toward any particular option for a future home for the school system’s administrative offices, board members talked about possibilities with the building space and the more than 40 acres at the former Allegheny Energy site.

Those opportunities include the possibility of one day building a school on the land, some board members said.

Having a school on the site is a possibility, maybe five or 10 years from now, depending on population trends, Wilcox said. Wilcox said he thought an elementary school would be as big as the school system would go on that land, but a couple of board members mentioned the possibility of a middle school there.

Other options include selling off part of the acreage, possibly for a technology business; and having professional or educational programming at the site, some board members said.

Wilcox said he was interested in possibly taking a program at one of the high schools and moving it to Downsville Pike so students would be in the same building with Central Office administrators. Such a move would serve as a daily reminder to employees as to “why we do what we do,” he said.

Several board members want to see results of an inspection of the site, and the cost of any needed improvements, so they can determine how to move forward.

Wilcox said McShea & Associates of Hagerstown is lining up inspectors for the Downsville Pike property.

Whether the associated costs need school board approval depends on the dollar figure, he said.

The building probably needs roofing work and some or all of the HVAC system building might need to be replaced, Wilcox said Tuesday night after the board voted to enter into the purchase agreement.

Building systems that have not been in use recently need to be turned on, and the grounds and groundwater need to be evaluated, Wilcox said.

Among the things several school board members said could be relocated to the Downsville Pike property were the offices at the aging Commonwealth Avenue complex as well as offices on Frederick Street, and storage in facilities on Frederick Street and in the old Job Development Center building near Smithsburg.

Wilcox said it also would be great to have special education administrative personnel at Marshall Street School in the same building as other administrative officials.

School system officials also need to evaluate the associated costs to determine whether the school bus lot would move to the Downsville Pike property if the school system buys the land, some board members said.

Even if the cost of needed renovations are determined to be reasonable, that doesn’t necessarily mean the board will vote to buy the site, Wilcox said Tuesday.

Board President Justin Hartings, Vice President Paul Bailey, and board members Donna Brightman, Jacqueline Fischer and Melissa Williams said Wednesday they were not leaning toward one site or another.

Board members Wayne Ridenour and Karen Harshman said they were learning toward the Downsville Pike property.

A few board members have recently toured the property and said the building looked to be sound structurally, but they were not experts in that field.

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