Future School Projects Clouded In Uncertainty

NEWARK – Progress is being made on the
new Worcester County Technical High School (WTS) and the renovations and
addition to Pocomoke High School (PHS), but the Worcester County Board of
Education is worried that the next projects in line could be delayed.

Snow Hill High School (SHHS) and
Showell Elementary School (SES) are slated next, but the school board does not
know whether preliminary steps, like studies and state approvals, will be taken
soon or further down the road.

The school board will focus on
completing the new technical high school, on schedule to open in mid-October,
and the work at PHS, which should be finished in spring 2011, said Ed Barber,
vice superintendent of schools for administration at Tuesday’s school board

An addition and renovations at
SHHS are slated to follow the PHS work.

“We are ready to proceed with
that, but what is not clear at this time is when the County Commissioners
intend to make local funding available,” said Barber.

The school board needs to know
the county’s intentions by September, in order to submit a request for state of
approval and funding by Oct. 6.

Planning for the SHHS work has
been funded and completed.

“The people in Snow Hill are
getting itchy,” said Board of Education member Donnie Shockley.

“They better get the calamine
lotion,” said Board member Jonathan Cook.

SHHS is over 50 years old and
needs updating, schools official say.

“It’s necessary. It’s needed,”
said Bob Hulburd, vice president of the school board.    

According to Commission President
Virgil Shockley, who represents Snow Hill, the county cannot move ahead with
SHHS until 2010 at the earliest.

“We’re not even going to the
bond market for Pocomoke ‘til October,” Shockley said.

The availability of contractors
is also a concern to the County
Commissioners, who do not
want to put a project out for bid when contractors able to handle such large
projects are already working on one, or more, county schools. There are about
three bricklayers that work on the Eastern Shore,
for example.

“You’ve got to have enough space
between projects to let people finish the one they’re on,” Shockley said

Money is also a concern. The Pocomoke High School
work, similar to the plans for improvements to Snow Hill High School, will create an annual debt
payment of $3.5 million.

“Number one, where’s the money
coming from? These bond payments have to come from somewhere,” Shockley said.
“Next year is going to be tighter than this year.”

On Tuesday, the Board of
Education also complained that the County
Commissioners put off a
feasibility study for SES requested in the fiscal year 2009 budget.

“There are not enough bathrooms.
The cafeteria is way too small. The media center is woefully inadequate,”
Barber said of SES.

According to Hulburd, trailers
provide one-quarter of Showell Elementary’s floor space.

One entire grade level is taught
in the nine trailers on SES grounds, outside the perimeter of the elementary
school building itself, according to Cook, who cautioned the school board
against simply accepting that SES is overcrowded and waiting passively for a
remedy to the situation.

“It’s $50,000 to do a
feasibility study,” said County Commissioner Linda Busick, who represents
Showell. “We have not even completed our new vocational and tech school. It
would not be a good use of that $50,000 to do a feasibility study at this time
… the cost will vary from this time ‘til the job actually gets done.”

Busick said she would be sure to
bring up the feasibility study next spring during fiscal year 2010 budget

Space is not the only issue at
Showell Elementary. The SES septic system is in bad shape and could fail in the
near future.

“We’re living on borrowed time.
That’s going to be needed no matter what we do,” Barber said.

If the County Commissioners
will not fund the replacement of the septic infrastructure at the elementary
school, the school board will have to bring in portable toilets if there is any
trouble with the sewer system, school board member Sara Thompson said.

Busick acknowledged that the system
could fail at any time, adding that the commissioners are studying the
situation to determine how to handle it. A new septic system could be located
across the street at Showell
Park, which would free up
more room for a new school.

The work could cost as much as
$1.4 million.

Other schools on the improvement
list including Stephen
Decatur Middle
School, which has needed an addition for years,
Barber said, as well as the county’s other middle and intermediate schools.

“Our school facility needs
aren’t decreasing,” he said. “The number of buildings needing alterations over
the next 10 years is increasing.”