What will happen to old Allegany High?

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Most residents agree with health system land swap proposal

CUMBERLAND — The debate at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting wasn’t about whether the city should swap land with Western Maryland Health System to build a new Allegany High School at site of the former Sacred Heart Hospital.

Twenty of 23 residents who spoke during a two-hour public hearing said they think the city should do the deal — and do it quickly.

And the mayor, along with three of four council members, said they strongly support the land swap, with Mary Beth Pirolozzi recusing herself because she sits on the hospital’s board of directors.

The concern looming on the horizon for many was this: What’s going to happen to the old Allegany High School?

“The bottom line is, I?want to see (the property) made to be free of buildings and blacktop so it could then be subdivided and made into building lots,” said Councilman Butch Hendershot. “The city needs the taxable income from new construction — not a moth-balled old school turned to eyesore, like what happened to East Side School.”

Early in the meeting Hendershot proposed that the land swap and the disposition of the old high school be tied together in a single Memorandum of Understanding.

But other council members — and a majority of residents who spoke — said they think the issues should be separate.

Western Maryland Health System has offered to give the BOE?the former Sacred Heart site, located about a mile from the current high school, if the city gives it 40 acres of land adjacent to the new hospital and Constitution Park.

The Allegany County Board of Education has asked the city to vote before the end of the year on the land swap in order to take advantage of a favorable 93-7 state funding formula for school construction.

“I don’t want this process to be stopped because something new is thrown into the mix,” said Kimi Scott-McGreevy, adding that she believes that city, county, school and hospital leaders can work together in good faith to develop a plan for the old high school — in a separate MOU.

“Nobody wants to see another large building sitting empty for years on end,” McGreevy said.

Mayor Brian Grim said Council intends to vote on the land swap sometime in December, and by the end of the meeting, a general consensus was that the disposition of the old high school would be dealt with separately.

Board of Education member Ed Root said that the school system doesn’t have an intended use for the property “cast in bronze right now,” and that the school construction process would likely take at least four years.

“We don’t know five years from now what the circumstances may be,” said Root, who attended the meeting with fellow BOE?members Laurie Marchini and Sara-Beth James.

“All I can do is assure you, if I’m still on the board, my intent would be to sit down with the parties involved and work out creatively what’s the best use of that property?” Root said.

Hendershot said he’d be satisfied if the parties can get together in the next couple of weeks and talk through the future of the old high school.

“I?just want something that lays out for us what we can all agree: ‘This is important. It’s important to that neighborhood. It’s important to the life of the city,’” Hendershot said.

Attorneys for the city, BOE and hospital system are currently drafting an MOU for the land swap, and surveys and appraisals are taking place.

Resident Dave Williams echoed a majority of other residents Tuesday in encouraging the city to support the land swap, calling it a “very logical thing to do.”

But Bill Russell, who lives on Bishop Walsh Road, said the city should slow down and study its options.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Russell said. “Why do we have to do this? Is it an impossibility to do nothing? To wait?”

Allegany?High School English teacher William Santilly said students and staff have waited long enough for a new building. He said that twice recently windows have fallen in and near his classroom.

Fellow Allegany teacher Larry Jackson urged council to approve the land swap.

“It’s smart business, what you’re doing,” Jackson said. “Haven’t we had enough years of a bunch of people doing nothing??Now is not the time to do nothing. Now is the time to do something. So let’s do it.”


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