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Most Washington County school board members favor former Allegheny Energy headquarters

Some said they still wanted to hear other proposals, including a developer's presentation April 2

March 26, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • At least four of the seven Washington County Board of Education members said Tuesday they were leaning toward voting to have Washington County Public Schools buy the former Allegheny Energy headquarters on Downsville Pike to house the school system's administrative offices.
Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

At least four of the seven Washington County Board of Education members said Tuesday they were leaning toward voting to have Washington County Public Schools buy the former Allegheny Energy headquarters on Downsville Pike to house the school system’s administrative offices.

Some board members said they still wanted to hear other proposals, including a developer’s presentation April 2, before solidifying their position or deciding which way to vote on a $5.5 million purchase agreement for the Downsville Pike property.

The first 45-day option the school board has for the approximately 44-acre property expires April 5 and the board plans to vote next Tuesday whether to buy the property, walk away from it or pay $50,000 to extend their option another 33 days.

Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox presented findings from contractor evaluations of the 10435 Downsville Pike property to the school board during a work session Tuesday. Wilcox said the estimated cost to renovate the building, including contingency funds for unexpected costs, is $6.6 million. With a $5.5 million purchase price, that brings the estimated cost of buying and renovating the property to $12.1 million.

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Figures the school system has heard regarding acquiring land in downtown Hagerstown, demolishing buildings and constructing new offices have started at an estimated $16.8 million, not including a parking deck.

Wilcox has said if the school board decided to buy and renovate the Downsville Pike building, the money would come from the school system’s fund balance, which is $12.5 million.

Wilcox said the board will meet in closed session April 2 with a developer, who has a construction partner, to hear more about their proposal. After the meeting, local developer Peter Perini confirmed he was meeting with the board April 2. Perini showed the board a concept drawing for a building earlier this month during a public meeting.

At the end of Tuesday’s work session, board member Donna Brightman encouraged anyone with an idea or a vision to put something in writing, with numbers, for the board to see before next Tuesday’s vote.

Neither Board President Justin Hartings, Vice President Paul Bailey nor Brightman were willing to say after the meeting whether they were leaning toward voting to buy the Downsville Pike property.

Brightman said she was hesitant to say she had made a decision because the board could be approached in the upcoming week with another proposal.

“I think what we’ve seen is a good fiscal case for the Allegheny Energy building, compared to what (we’ve) seen so far,” Hartings said.

But he said he didn’t want to prejudge any proposals he might hear in the coming week.

Board members Wayne Ridenour and Karen Harshman, who previously have said they were leaning toward the Downsville Pike property, reiterated that after Tuesday’s meeting.

Ridenour said the property is the “best option.”

Harshman said she would vote to buy the property unless she saw something better than what was presented Tuesday.

Board member Melissa Williams said she, too, was leaning toward the property, but had not made a definite decision because she wanted to remain open-minded and hear what developers had to say next Tuesday.

Board member Jacqueline Fischer said if nothing else is brought to the board that she thinks is a good option, she will probably vote to buy the Downsville Pike property. She also said she wanted to hear what developers propose Tuesday.

During the meeting, which Hagerstown Mayor David S. Gysberts attended, Brightman referred to a joint meeting the school board had with the mayor and City Council on Feb. 19, during which city officials encouraged the school board to move downtown.

Brightman said she wasn’t trying to be unkind, but that she didn’t hear a consensus among City Council members during that meeting and she found that “very concerning.”

Wilcox said he has met with Gysberts and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman, but he’s “not really seen anything in writing.”

Gysberts, who left before Tuesday’s meeting ended, said later in a phone interview that he was preparing a letter reiterating that the city is willing to acquire property for a site, to demolish existing structures, to build a parking deck and to reduce procedural barriers to make the project happen.

Gysberts said he was planning to ask City Council members to sign the letter Tuesday night so it could be sent to board members today. The letter was in the works regardless of what he heard at Tuesday’s school board meeting, Gysberts said.

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