Occasionally, good intentions can be taken to the extreme. We thank past Washington County boards of education for putting students first, and milking every drop of use out of the rickety old central office complex on Commonwealth Avenue. We also congratulate the current board for knowing when to say enough.
The school board decided last week that it will not renovate the aging campus, which is nearly $5 million behind in maintenance needs, a sum Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said could easily double in the near future. And given the condition of the cobbled-together offices, it’s clear that this expenditure would simply be throwing good money after bad.
This has always been a touchy subject, since some saw talk of a new board office as an allegory for a system that spent too much on administration and not enough on kids. But that model has, over time, reversed itself — as it stands now, dollars that are spent on patchwork fixes to the central offices are dollars that can’t be spent on students.
The smart decision both for the taxpayers and board employees is to find a new home that will not decay beneath the feet of one and all. Now that it has essentially resolved to move, the question becomes, to where does the board move?
A couple schools of thought have emerged. A seemingly obvious solution might be to buy the former Allegheny Energy building on Downsville Pike. It’s big, relatively new, easily accessible and has plenty of parking. Were the decision being made in a vacuum, this would be a hard option to beat.
But there are other considerations beyond office space. Downtown Hagerstown might be on the brink of something special, as major development groups take a hard look at the city’s potential. The old MELP plant is expected to come down, plans are being evaluated for the old hospital property and there’s still the possibility of a major development in the city, be it a stadium, convention center or something else.
Moving the central offices downtown is not going to save the city any more than a new stadium or any other single development would. But it would be one more set of helping hands that would lighten the heavy lifting that will have to be done if we are to see a city resurgence.
One more critical thing for the board to keep in mind is that even the availability of a world-class education will do the community little good if our best and brightest students continue to leave Washington County once they have obtained it. And without a thriving, interesting county seat, that exodus will continue unabated.
We appreciate that the board has had an open mind, to date, and we also are encouraged by Wilcox’s comments that the board complex could have multiple purposes to include perhaps a teaching academy or charter school.
There will be some important decisions for the board to consider in the coming months. The most important, to abandon a sinking ship once and for all, appears to have been made.