Though all hope is not lost on a possible reconsideration, the state’s rejection of a funding contribution for a new Buckingham Elementary School is a major blow to any type of future project. It was disappointing to learn this week despite a committee working on the design with state, county and town officials that Buckingham has not been listed in the county’s five-year capital improvement plan to the state.
Without the state’s projected $17.6 million contribution to the proposed $68 million project – or 26 precent – the county is in a major pickle. The project is in limbo. Would the County Commissioners consider picking up the entire tab instead? The answer would seem at this point to be no at the $68 million level. County Commissioners President Chip Bertino said this week, “As a community we need to determine how we move forward. It’s incumbent on the board of education and the superintendent to come up with an alternate plan on how to move forward. As far as I’m concerned, the ball is in the board of education’s court to determine the best way to move forward to resolve the issues with the state.” Bertino and Commissioner Eric Fiori specifically took exception to the school system knowing about the state’s refusal to help fund the project since January, but the school system maintains it has been working through the state to address the funding concerns and there’s precedent for initial rejection of funds for school projects. The options appear to be exhausted at this point beyond a desperate appeal, but there’s a bit of optimism the situation could be resolved through legislative help. It’s a huge unknown right now, putting the Buckingham Elementary project on life support at this point.
Rather than contribute funding to a new and needed Buckingham Elementary, the state thinks the county should ease the crowding pressure at the school by reconsidering school district boundaries. As far as the state is concerned, there are 641 empty seats at Showell Elementary, Berlin Intermediate and Ocean City Elementary schools. Buckingham could send its fourth grade to Berlin Intermediate like Showell did for many years. Conversely, students who currently attend Buckingham from certain areas, such as eastern parts of Berlin, could head to Ocean City Elementary or Showell Elementary possibly.
No matter what decision is made as far as enrollment, the critical issue here remains fairness for students and teachers at Buckingham Elementary. The aging school does not provide the same learning environment as students at Ocean City Elementary and Showell Elementary enjoy. The schools are within 10 miles of each other, but the experiences are far different at Buckingham than at the other schools because of the aging facility. It’s a disturbing reality. The concern here is what is the pivot if the state does not budge from its position that a new school is not needed. It’s possible the county could build a school for its potential original allotment of $50 million. The county went it alone with Stephen Decatur Middle School back in the mid-1990s, but it opened with trailers because it was too small to meet the demand.
While efforts continue to convince the state to change its mind, local county officials need to prepare to pivot. Is an expansion now best for Buckingham rather than a new school? Can a remodel and massive renovation occur without compromising education? How big of a new school can the county build for $50 million if the commissioners are willing to commit? It’s all disappointing news for Buckingham teachers and families, but the planning for a pivot needs to happen.
It’s been a busy couple weeks in Ocean City. The first Oceans Calling Festival was two weeks ago and last week was the fall Endless Summer Cruisin event, which brought a special event zone designation into effect.
From the Ocean City Police Department’s perspective, Deputy Communications Manager Ashley Miller said the event “went fairly well” with only a couple concerns. Miller said, “In the evening hours, we did see a lot of vehicles and pedestrians congregate in the 120th Street area. We established an alternate traffic pattern at that intersection to keep the vehicles moving further north. We assisted a few businesses with clearing their parking lots when they became too congested with popup car shows. We dealt with this each car event and it went fairly well.”
From a statistics perspective, there was a noticeable increase this year in traffic stops and enforcements. There were 832 total traffic enforcements, representing a 49% increase from 2022’s event. There were 451 total traffic stops, representing a 70% increase over 2022 but down 21% from 2019. Total calls for service were 965, up 14% from last year but down 24% from 2019. There were 18 exhibition driving arrests this year compared to 12 last year, 17 in 2021 and 10 in 2020. Total arrests over the four-day event were 28, down 10% from 2022.
Additionally, Miller said the department held a Cruisin Coffee With Cops event as part of the event to offer an opportunity for officers to mix it up with participants. She said, “We had a great turnout at our Endless Summer Cruisin’ Coffee with Cops this past Thursday at Jays Café. Our event bumps up after the Boardwalk parade. This year we had a lot of cars come by to be judged by our officers. It is a fun community engagement event to be able to speak to the participants, check out their cars, and award them trophies. Our officers enjoyed it.”