Washington County officials question school board's plans for Downsville Pike property

April 02, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE |

With its decision Tuesday to purchase the former Allegheny Energy site off Downsville Pike, the Washington County Board of Education effectively removes a 44-acre property and approximately $60,000 annually from county tax rolls.

Earlier Tuesday, during a joint meeting with the Washington County Board of Commissioners at the school system’s Commonwealth Avenue complex, Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham asked school board members what might be done with the former Allegheny Energy property within Friendship Technology Park not needed for school system operations.

“We have to be very good stewards and proactive in putting our economic development team on it, getting a list of ... potential good neighbors for that site and going after them so our citizens throughout the county will have enough tax money coming in to support what we need to do,” Callaham said.

In evaluating the property, school board member Wayne D. Ridenour said it would cost approximately $6 million less for the BOE to move its administrative offices to Downsville Pike than to downtown Hagerstown.


Ridenour said tax dollars would be used in either case, so saving money on the front end makes sense. He said it would take 100 years for the county to recoup the additional $6 million spent to move downtown, at the property tax rate of $60,000 per year.

“I think that that argument is a little difficult to swallow,” he said. “I don’t think 100 years worth of ($60,000) really makes a lot of sense to me.”

Ridenour said the building was “a ghost” before the school board decided to buy it. He agreed with Callaham’s recommendation to start a dialogue for other uses of the property, especially because having the school system there only increases the area’s value and attractiveness.

“It makes it attractive because you have an occupant in that building, a consistent occupant, so businesses want to locate near there,” said Ridenour, who said he appraises property for a living. “It’s pretty fertile and it’s open area. It becomes seed money in a rather fertile area. It’s like putting it in well-cultivated soil instead of clay.”

During a presentation to the five commissioners, schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said the property provides quite a bit of flexibility for the school system to consolidate services and facilities, but also could accommodate some county or city operations.

“I think it would make a great deal of sense,” Wilcox said.

The property also offers opportunities to host other things such as recreational activities for the county and city, he said.

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