WCPS chief: Renovating former Allegheny Energy headquarters would be cheaper than downtown plan

The Board of Education ultimately will make the decision on where to move administrative offices

March 21, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Washington County Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox
File photo

Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said rough estimates indicate that renovating the former Allegheny Energy headquarters would be much less expensive for taxpayers than demolishing downtown Hagerstown buildings and constructing new administrative offices and a parking deck.

Wilcox said estimates for renovating the former utility building on Downsville Pike are around $6 million. Combined with the $5.5 million price in the purchase agreement the Board of Education approved on Feb. 19, that puts the estimated cost of buying and renovating the building at around $11.5 million.

The cost of land acquisition, demolition, and construction at four potential sites in downtown Hagerstown ranges from an estimated $16.8 million to $18.25 million, Tim Henry has said. Henry, an executive vice president of Frederick, Md.-based BlueRidge Bank, chaired a Greater Hagerstown Committee task force that studied 12 potential sites before selecting four to present to Hagerstown officials in February.

Wilcox said constructing a parking deck downtown could cost an additional $8 million to $10 million.


City Planner Alex Rohrbaugh said last week that initial estimates for a new 490-space, four-story deck would cost about $8.5 million, excluding land acquisition and about $700,000 for design costs.

“Someone has to pay for that. I’m not a taxing authority, but I am responsible to the taxpayers,” in Hagerstown and throughout Washington County, Wilcox said Wednesday when he met with The Herald-Mail’s editorial board to discuss the charge he was given by the Board of Education to research long-term options for the school system’s administrative offices.

Throughout the discussion, Wilcox made it clear he was not speaking for the school board members, who will decide where the board’s administrative offices will go.

School system officials have said there is an estimated $4.7 million in deferred maintenance for the system’s administrative centers, most of which is for the Commonwealth Avenue complex. After receiving a December 2012 report on the complex, Wilcox said earlier this year that the deferred maintenance for it could reach $10 million.

The Board of Education ultimately will make the decision on whether to move to the former Allegheny Energy building, go downtown, or explore other options.

The school board is having a work session at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday to hear about renovation costs and the work that would need to be done at the former Allegheny Energy building for the school system to use it for administrative offices.

The purchase agreement the school board approved for the Downsville Pike property, which includes approximately 44 acres, gives the school board until April 5 to decide whether to buy the property for $5.5 million, not buy the property, or pay a non-refundable $50,000 to get another 33 days to decide what to do.

Wilcox said he believed the board would be hard-pressed to invest $50,000 it wouldn’t get back. Perhaps the city, the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, the Greater Hagerstown Committee, or an interested developer could put up the $50,000 to buy the board extra time, he said.

The school board has a voting session scheduled for April 2.

Wilcox said Wednesday that the $6 million estimate for renovation work needed at the former energy building was based on what the contractor thinks it might cost, not on a firm estimate or bids.

Most of the building’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system would need to be replaced, the lighting would need to be changed, and asbestos abatement would be required, Wilcox said.

The review of the building included looking at environmental, structural, mechanical, electrical, life safety, and handicap-accessibility issues, he said.

How quickly new administrative offices would be available also is a factor, Wilcox said.

If the school board chooses to buy the Downsville Pike property, it could begin to move in as early as six months after making the purchase, with a phased-in move probably taking 18 months, he said.

If the school board chooses to go downtown, Wilcox estimated it could take at least a year for land acquisition and demolition, then probably 18 months to two years for construction.

The school system could end up spending more than $1 million in maintaining the Commonwealth Avenue complex before it could move downtown, he said.

If the school board decides to buy and renovate the Downsville Pike property, the money would come from the school system’s fund balance of $12.5 million, Wilcox said. The fund balance is used for one-time expenses, not recurring costs such as salaries, he said.

The size of the Downsville Pike building and property, which is southwest of the Downsville Pike/Interstate 70 interchange, could provide for programming and new school options for the school system, Wilcox said.

The acreage could one day be home to a new elementary or middle school, Wilcox said.

The large office building, which is approximately 143,000 square feet, has enough room that it also could be used for something innovative, such as a teaching academy or some type of educational programming, which could help open up space at a school, Wilcox said.

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