State’s Approval Of Snow Hill School Plan Could Be In Jeopardy

SNOW HILL — Under pressure from the state level, the Worcester County Board of Education vented fears Tuesday that delaying renovation on Snow Hill High School (SHHS) might mean big setbacks when funding for the project eventually becomes available from the county.

“It is unique to have a project this long,” said Assistant Superintendent for Administration Edward Barber.

Renovating SHHS has been on the table for years but was delayed in favor of renovating Pocomoke High School (PHS). With work on PHS completed last summer, SHHS was moved from on-deck to the plate. However, financial concerns kept the Worcester County Commission from giving SHHS the green light, a decision that caused dissatisfaction both within the school board and among parents of SHHS students.

In response to the delay, Executive Director of Maryland Public School Construction Program David Lever wrote the school board a letter of concern. In the letter, Lever points out that if the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) had known SHHS would be delayed for so many years, “it is very likely that planning approval would have been deferred.”

With drafts on the books since 2007, Lever explained that the IAC may need to rescind the current plan’s approval if work on the school is delayed beyond next year.

“It therefore becomes an obligation on our agency to consider whether a project that has received planning approval but shows no signs of moving toward construction should be allowed to stand in the record,” wrote Lever,

Lever asked that both the school board and commissioners send a letter of assurance before Nov. 5 promising that funding for the SHHS project will at least be requested for next year, and if granted, that construction will begin no later than the summer of 2014.

The letter made more than a few board members nervous.

“I just don’t believe in paying for things twice,” said Board member Jonathon Cook.

Cook pointed out that $1.5 million has already been invested into the current set of plans for SHHS renovations and that the money would basically be forfeited if new plans are needed.

“Look what we’re walking away from,” said Cook, noting that $1.5 million was about 4.7 percent of the total cost of the entire project.

Cook called having to redraw plans “throwing away money” and urged the school board to write a letter to the commissioners stressing “time sensitivity” and asking them to “reconsider the consequences” of delaying SHHS this year.

The board unanimously approved of the idea, and President Bob Hulburd expressed a hope the commission might reconsider the decision to delay based on this new information. However, he admitted that he wasn’t very optimistic in that regard.

“I’m really worried about it [SHHS],” said Hulburd, a SHHS graduate.

He pointed out that there are a lot of counties in the state looking to build new schools “all competing for a limited pot of money.” If the current plans need to be redrawn, Hulburd is afraid SHHS might lose its place in line for state funding. When asked if it might be possible to alter the current plan as per the wish of some members of the commission to be less expensive, Hulburd said that “any major change to the plan would set everything back” to the beginning.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley confirmed the commission is aware of Lever’s letter and the board’s worries.

“We received the letter,” he said. “The commissioners will respond to the letter, hopefully by the next commission meeting.”