BOE can't afford to wait if city delays

February 21, 2013

By its own hand, the Washington County Board of Education has delayed moving its central offices into a modern, professional space — probably for longer than prudence warranted. But for better or worse, accommodating the needs of the administration has been considered politically toxic, especially in the days when temporary classrooms dotted the landscape.

But the rapidly deteriorating condition of the board’s Commonwealth Avenue offices no longer can be overlooked. Projected repair costs are now well into the millions of dollars, and even these fixes would be akin to holding an auto body together with bailing twine.

On Tuesday, the board tentatively put down an offer for the former Allegheny Energy building on Downsville Pike, while at the same time leaving open the possibility of moving downtown if an attractive offer comes its way.

We support the board’s action for two reasons. First, the current office building is a ship that needs to be abandoned sooner rather than later. Clearly, the board’s first responsibility is to its employees, and to their health and safety. The board is doing due diligence by fully exploring its options.

Second, we believe the board’s action is a proper shot across the bow of Hagerstown City Council members and urban redevelopers who are wooing the board as a potential downtown tenant.

The city has been batting around redevelopment ideas for the better part of a year, and if someone doesn’t force its hand, these discussions might go on ad infinitum.

If this seems like too much too fast, let’s remember that the city has been kicking around redevelopment ideas for some time with no master strategy emerging.

Further, the current council is made up of veteran officeholders who know the issues and should be experienced at executing plans in a timely manner. Only Mayor David Gysberts is new to elected office.

For reasons we have previously stated, we believe the board should give downtown supporters every opportunity to come through with an attractive offer. The school system and the community will not thrive without a vibrant city at the core.

But the board cannot be expected to sit patiently by as the months and years pass, waiting for the council to figure out its vision for the city. As such, we fully support the board’s move to force the city’s hand.

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