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Washington County BOE members question proposed site layout for 'West City' school

Concerns raised about changes in parking requested by Hagerstown officials

June 26, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

After hearing school board members raise concerns Tuesday about the latest site proposal for a new “West City” elementary school, Washington County Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox suggested some problems could have been avoided if planners had not agreed to a parking lot change requested by the city.

The site for the new school in the Hager’s Crossing development is currently zoned R2, or residential, with a Planned Unit Development overlay for mixed-density residential.

An amendment must be made to the PUD overlay for the school to be built at the site behind Walmart.

Hagerstown officials asked school system officials to revise the site layout so staff and visitor parking would be behind the school and not in front of the school, where parking would be closer to Hagers Crossing Drive, Chad Criswell, senior project manager for the school system, told the Washington County Board of Education during a meeting Tuesday night.

The latest preliminary design has the parking in the back, with the bus loop remaining in front of the school — a design city officials have indicated would be acceptable, Criswell said.

“They were trying to limit the amount of asphalt that was going to be in front of the building and provide more of a street view for the building,” Criswell told the board. “That being said, it’s not written in stone, and it is subject to discussion ....”

After hearing school board members voice various concerns and ask questions about the latest site concept, Wilcox looked toward the presentation table where Criswell and the project architect sat and said: “And don’t you wish you would have listened to me now in deciding stuff ... in one of the earlier discussions we had about, not caving to the PUD folks.”

After some people chuckled at Wilcox’s comment, he appeared to smile and said: “We’d have been in a whole different place. A lot of these questions would have been for nothing.”

Wilcox did not return messages Wednesday about the comments.

City Planner Alex Rohrbaugh said Wednesday that the Planning Commission recommended approval of the PUD amendment to the Hagerstown City Council with the condition that the school be oriented to give the project more of a “traditional neighborhood design.”

The council is expected to discuss the PUD amendment during a July 9 work session, with the public hearing about the proposed rezoning scheduled for the council’s 7 p.m. meeting on July 23, Rohrbaugh said.

If the council approves the PUD amendment, the school system would then need to submit a more detailed site plan, Rohrbaugh said.

While the concept and site plans should generally be consistent, city officials expect there would be some differences, Rohrbaugh said.

Among the questions school board member Karen Harshman had about the preliminary site layout concerned a dead-end driveway for delivery trucks to access the school’s loading dock. A walking path would have students cross the entry to that area to get to fields behind the school.

Harshman said Wednesday that she is concerned any time students have to cross a traffic area.

“I just think there should be some way of eliminating that,” Harshman said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Harshman said she prefers having the parking in back because putting it in front of the school “ruins the aesthetic value.”

“With that much land, it seems there’s lots of room to do different things with it,” she said.

Criswell said Tuesday that the images shown to board members Tuesday were about the 50th version of the preliminary site design. Finding a solution to prevent students from crossing the entry to the loading dock was one of the aspects project officials were discussing, he said.

After several more revisions are made, the schematic design for the new school is expected to be presented to the school board in August for approval, Criswell said.

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