November 20th, 2011 by WCBC Radio
In last weeks Sunday edition of the Cumberland Times-News Managing Editor Jan Alderton wrote an editorial discussing the placement of the new Allegany high school. In an effort to respond, the Allegany County Board of Education submitted their own editorial. However, they were told it was 300 words too long. What follows is their response:
Almost everyone in our community is aware that the Allegany County Board of Education is in the process of working toward construction of a new Allegany High School. Additionally, folks are aware that the Braddock Campus of the Western Maryland Health System (former Sacred Heart Hospital) site is being considered as a possible location.
Justifiably, some recent questions related to the proposed acquisition of the Braddock Campus have been raised and as members of the elected Board of Education for Allegany County, we wish to publicly respond with the process and rationale to secure funding, land, and support for a new Allegany High School. Our county is among the poorest in the state and we are committed to a brighter future by investing in the education of our children. Through advancements in instruction, all of our schools show improved performance across all grade levels. However, we also face daunting challenges. While other counties struggle to build schools to keep up with population growth, Allegany County has been struggling with population decline for the past several decades. Fortunately, the tides are beginning to turn and our enrollment loss has slowed significantly. Projections from the Maryland Department of Planning indicate slight growth within the next few years. In fact, this year we have more students in kindergarten than in first grade and our preschool enrollment is larger than last year’s.
Because of our financial situation, we have had to selectively and reluctantly neglect capital projects that are becoming more urgent. In late 2009, the Allegany County Board of Education hired Eperitus, an educational planning company, to conduct the 2010 Comprehensive Utilization Study of Cumberland Secondary Schools. The study yielded a number of recommendations for schools in the Cumberland area. The study found that consolidation with another high school is not feasible with current population, educational program needs, and future enrollment projections. Since Mountain Ridge and Fort Hill cannot absorb all the Allegany High School students, we would be faced with construction at one or both schools to accommodate the Allegany students.
In February 2011, the Allegany County Board of Education commissioned a feasibility study of Allegany High School and both of Cumberland’s middle schools. Because of the very poor condition of Allegany High School’s infrastructure and the limitations of its current campus, the feasibility study recommended replacement of Allegany High School on a new site. Allegany High School is the oldest continuously operating high school building in the State of Maryland. The original building was built in 1925. It has been the subject of significant renovations and additions. Although it has also been well-cared for, winning numerous maintenance awards over the years, the building is well beyond its useful life and cannot be renovated again. What is most unfortunate is that the building is in the way of delivering proper educational programs to our students.
Our architectural consultants evaluated land adjacent to the current Braddock Middle School as a possible alternative site. They determined that it would be cost prohibitive to build on that site due to the steep terrain. As part of this process, we have identified the former Braddock Campus of the Western Maryland Health System as our top priority site. This campus/site is less than one mile from the current Allegany High School. Our architects, Grimm and Parker, have toured the site and report that this parcel can satisfy the building requirements and infrastructure needs. Members from our Board have discussed with the Western Maryland Health System the possibility of repurposing the Braddock Campus site as the new Allegany High School campus. The Health System is interested in trading the former Braddock Campus for about 24 acres on Willowbrook Road adjacent to their new hospital.
We need to build a new Allegany High School for the benefit of our students, the greater good of our community, and as an economic development vehicle to provide incentives to live and raise a family within the county.
A new $40 million Allegany High School within the city on the Braddock Campus will protect property values for that neighborhood, keep the school in the present Allegany district, impact bus transportation of students minimally, continue to make the school accessible for community activities and use, and provide for future student growth. Additionally, it will result in a huge savings to the taxpayers since a new site will not have to be purchased or a road and utilities provided. Further, it enables the county to take advantage of the favorable state funding formula (construction costs of 93% state share and 7% local share). Unfortunately, this does put the Board of Education, City of Cumberland, and the Western Maryland Health System on a tight timeline which to some may give the impression of being rushed. We wish to assure the public that considerable thought and effort have gone into this arrangement to the mutual benefit of all parties, and especially, the taxpayers of Allegany County.
Our Board has met individually and publicly with members of Cumberland’s City Council. We firmly believe this is the best opportunity for this project to succeed.
This proposal did not develop overnight. This is a very thoughtful and well-studied proposal, a true collaboration between the Western Maryland Health System, the City of Cumberland, the Allegany County Board of Commissioners, and the Board of Education. In closing, we urge public support for the placement of a new Allegany High School on the former Braddock Campus/Sacred Heart campus. We need to work together to ensure that we have a site agreement approved prior to our hearing with the Interagency Committee on School Construction in December. We appreciate the opportunity to work together.