SNOW HILL — The Worcester County Commissioners restated their intent to begin renovations on Snow Hill High School (SHHS) next year during their meeting Tuesday, sending a letter to the state Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC).
Last month, the commission voted not to begin renovations on SHHS this year, due to budget issues, despite the project being planning. The ruling left the Board of Education and a number of parents upset and uncertain of when SHHS will finally receive a much needed overhaul. The commission defended the delay, stressing the fragility of the budget and promised to make every effort to fund renovations in the next budget.
“All the commission did was shove things back one year,” said Chief Administrative Officer Gerald Mason.
While the commissioners verbally expressed its intent to attempt to fund the project next year during the original hearing, they put their resolve into writing this week in response to a letter from the IAC.
David Lever, executive director of the Maryland Public School Construction Program, wrote a letter of concern to the school board last month noting state funding for the SHHS project has remained available but unused for the last few years. He warned that if another year passes by with no move on the county to accept those funds, they might disappear and the project will be sent back to the drawing board.
The school board has been vocal about its fear that the money and time invested into planning for SHHS will be wasted if the state shuffles it back to the bottom of the pile.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes reminded the commission that there are narrow windows of opportunity when the ability to renovate or rebuild a school drastically becomes available.
“The door opens once a year. If you don’t step in the door in October, you don’t get in line,” he said.
Andes has been passionate about getting the ball rolling on SHHS, going so far as to note it as a special challenge during his retirement announcement last month. The commission agreed that SHHS is still a top priority and, if things go as planned, work will start next year.
“It’s our intent to move forward with this,” promised Commission President Bud Church.
However, Mason reminded everyone that the letter to the IAC only states intent to consider funding. It does not promise to actually provide that funding unconditionally.
“The word is intent,” he said. “We ‘intend’ to do this … I don’t want to imply that the letter is an ironclad guarantee because it’s not.”
The commission has made it no secret that the fate of school renovations depends upon the strength of the county budget. This year, it was found lacking. The commission is more optimistic about next year, but nothing is set in stone.
“It’s not going to be easy,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.
He listed some of the same worries, like an expected decrease in property tax revenue from Ocean City and potential shifts in responsibilities from the state to county level. However, overall, Shockley was confident Worcester should be on sounder ground next year.
“There are things being sold; there are people buying,” he said.
Worcester’s rate of unemployment was his biggest concern and he thinks a major effort needs to go toward getting more jobs into the county.
“If we get that [unemployment] number down, then we can afford a new school,” said Shockley.