City agrees to land swap

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Cumberland Times-News, December 20, 2011

Kristin Harty Barkley

CUMBERLAND — City leaders signed off on an “historic land swap” Tuesday night, furthering hopes that a new Allegany High School might be built at the site of the former Braddock Campus of Western Maryland Health System.

Cumberland City Council voted 3-0 in favor of the deal, in which it gives WMHS around 40 acres of land near Constitution Park and WMHS gives the 22-acre former hospital site to the Allegany County Board of Education.

Two council members abstained from voting because of conflicts of interest. Mary Beth Pirolozzi serves on the hospital’s board of directors; and David Kauffman works for the school system.

After weeks of negotiations to iron out details, Councilman Nick Scarpelli made a motion at Tuesday’s council meeting to approve the land swap.

“It’s my great honor to second that motion for what may be a historic land swap that would allow our BOE?to build a new high school,”?Councilman Butch Hendershot said.

The BOE approved the same memorandum of understanding during a special meeting Tuesday morning. School officials are in the midst of seeking state funding for the planning phase of the new high school, which has been talked about for years.

Built in 1925, Allegany High School has outlived its ability to function as a modern educational facility, a feasibility study has found. The BOE has made building a new school on a new site its top capital projects priority and has been rallying for support from local governmental bodies for months.

“We appreciate the cooperation and collaboration by the City of Cumberland and the Western Maryland Health System on this project that will be mutually beneficial to all the citizens of the city and county,” Superintendent David Cox said Tuesday morning.

Cox and board members Sara-Beth James and Ed Root attended Tuesday night’s council meeting, but did not speak.

Allegany County commissioners, who have placed a new high school on their capital projects list, participated in joint discussions about how to remediate the old high school once a new one is built.

County, city and school officials have pledged to work together to assure the property doesn’t go to blight.

“It is a historic moment to have so many community leaders work together for a single cause,”BOE President Mike Llewellyn said. “Hopefully this will become the status quo for Allegany County’s future.”

Cox said that members of the state’s Interagency Committee on School Construction were “very impressed that all of these groups are working so hard to provide a site for a new Allegany High School.”

Allegany County is benefiting from a favorable 93-7 funding formula for the next couple of years, meaning the state would pay 93 percent of costs, and local government would pay 7 percent.

Last week, Sen. George Edwards told school officials he thinks the state will likely fund the new high school.