It’s been dubbed the “Taj Mahal” and “Ivory Tower” but neither of these monikers does the building justice.
As the Frederick County Board of Education settles into the new Frederick Public Schools System central office building on East South Street at South East Street, it has experienced an unending wave of criticism from all corners of the county by scores of angry taxpayers. Recently The Frederick News Post posted an unscientific on-line poll asking readers if the new building was justified; given its $14.7 million price tag. Seventy-four percent of respondents said “no.”
Few residents disagree that a new building was needed to consolidate the administrative facilities especially since the existing buildings were fast becoming money pits and the buildings were not in close proximity to each other.
Even though the consolidation was sorely needed, the timing couldn’t have been worse for the Board of Education and Superintendant Linda Burgee in moving forward with this endeavor. This project – some eight years in the making – called for the building of office space to house the administrative offices to allow the closure of older facilities both downtown and on Hayward Road. It ended up being built at a time when the taxpaying public was looking for austerity, not audacity from their elected officials.
There are obviously several factors that have raised the taxpayers’ ire include the location, the overbearing architecture and the fact that building this structure received higher priority – and was built prior to – than those county schools in desperate need of repairs and renovations.
Likely the greatest of all factors that critics point to is the $14.7 million that it cost to build the South Street building and the subsequent debt incurred by the board by approving this loan.
Aware that the board needs to divest of these older properties as soon as economically feasible, Dr. Michael Schaden, DVM, – the board’s current vice president – in a recent interview with Marge Neal of The Frederick News Post stated that he would be interested in renting out the Hayward Road facility to the new Carroll Creek Montessori Public Charter School as a way of raising funds to help pay down the debt on the loan on the central office building.
Originally opposed to the idea, Dr. Schaden realized that the income received could help pay down the debt on the new facility while waiting on better market conditions for the sale of the older properties.
Members of the current Board of Education continue to receive an unprecedented level of opposition to their decision to continue with the South Street administration building. It, no doubt, has had an effect on the decisions of the four members of the board who are up for election this fall. Jean Smith is the only board member currently seeking re-election. The other three – Bonnie Borsa, Daryl Boffman and Dr. Schaden have decided to step aside for various reasons.
With their legacy staring them right in the face, the current board, in what is essentially a “lame duck” session, has been looking for ways to assuage their guilt and defray the costs of the new administration building, thus easing the concerns of taxpayers and preserving Jean Smith’s chances at re-election.
Besides the potential rental of the Hayward facility, the board – it is rumored – will announce that it will take bids for exclusive naming rights to the central office building. In our area we have FedEx Field, 1st Mariner Arena, Comcast Center, M&T Bank Stadium among other venues that corporations lend their names to. These sponsors pay tremendous amounts of money to have their names tied to an arena or stadium. It is in essence an extremely high profile billboard.
With the location of the new administration building in such a prime location at the new gateway to Frederick, the flashing lights of the sponsor would be seen by nearly every visitor that drives into town. The board is looking for an initial bid of $2 million, with an annual renewal of $1 million for a total of 10 years.
Initial speculation among sources close to the board is that Frederick’s star chef – and owner of Volt – Brian Voltaggio will not be a part of any bidding war. Mr. Voltaggio is reportedly satisfied with having his own Frederick Keys bobble head doll and letting his exquisite dishes and word of mouth be his main source of advertising.
Other area restaurants including Jug Bridge Seafood and Barley & Hops are unlikely to offer any bid as they feel that they’ve paid enough already. Other businesses that the board may pursue include Yellow Cab of Frederick. It is unlikely that owner Blaine Young will bid for the rights either – it has been rumored that he is happy to have his own bobble head doll as well.
If the board doesn’t receive a qualified bid, they will continue with the current name and continue to stick it to county taxpayers.
[Editor’s Note: The cost of constructing the new Board of Education administrative headquarters has been bounced around for years. The original estimated cost was in the neighborhood of $25 million. The uproar was such that the square footage of the structure was reduced. Then the cost was estimated at $17.5 million. Now figures being bandied about have it at around $16 million. And in today’s piece above, Joe Charlebois has taken a $14.7 million value from a Frederick News-Post survey question. The real – and final – cost may never truly be known.]