Washington County school officials on Tuesday took another major step toward a shared vision for downtown Hagerstown, moving closer to transforming a blighted South Potomac Street building into much-needed classroom space.
Following some discussion, the Washington County Board of Education voted 5-0 to approve educational specifications and a schematic design for its component of a proposed $30 million urban-improvement project in the city.
The design for the BOE's four-story building — featuring 16 flexible classrooms, 3,000 square feet of dining and multipurpose space, and an onsite kitchen — will now be forwarded to the Maryland State Department of Education for review.
"This means we can move forward to do everything that we need to get the additional funding," board member Pieter Bickford said after the meeting. "We've set aside the $4 million. Now, these (plans) need to go to the state to get approved, so we can move forward with the process."
The school board has earmarked $4 million from its fund balance toward the building, estimated to cost about $14 million.
County government would provide another $4 million, along with $1 million from the developer, with the remainder coming from state sources over the next few years, according to a proposed funding formula.
The building will have connectivity with the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts and The Maryland Theatre on either side, as well as the University System of Maryland Hagerstown's component via an enclosed bridge.
Prior to the vote, board member Mike Guessford raised concerns about uncertainties related to funding of the overall project, which includes expansions of the theater and USMH, as well as a new plaza area.
"This is a good project, and we’ve all said we want this to happen, but unfortunately it just keeps getting more question marks written all over it," he said.
Interim Superintendent Boyd Michael said nothing has changed since the board voted in February to approve the design work, noting that he has been "very, very clear" that construction wouldn't begin without a full funding commitment.
If everything goes as planned, demolition would begin in January, which prompted several board members to wonder how such a large-scale construction project might affect the high school and downtown businesses, including several nearby restaurants.
Jeff Tedrick, president of construction operations for Bowman, acknowledged it would be a challenge, but he pledged to be mindful of the school and surrounding properties to minimize disruptions.
"Our work will start from the rear alley and come forward once we’re demolishing," he told board members, pointing out that construction would happen in reverse order.
Source : http://www.heraldmailmedia.com/news/local/boe-approves-design-for-downtown-hagerstown-project/article_b801a265-e7da-5851-bc08-4f8fb44ffffd.html