Greenwood property and observatory sold to church; other school board news

by Kate Evans

The Morgan County School Board closed on the sale of Greenwood Elementary and its 5.74 acres and property to Greenwood United Methodist Church for one dollar on September 4. School board president Aaron Close reported at their September 4 regular meeting that he signed the deed with church trustees earlier that day and that the sale is complete.

The sale conveys ownership to the church of the Greenwood Elementary property’s buildings and contents, which include the Morgan County Observatory and its telescope. The church plans to use the Greenwood Elementary school building as a community center.

Close said that church members are excited about the partnership and the observatory. Church trustees have repeatedly expressed their commitment to maintaining the existing lease and arrangements with the observatory.

School board member John Rowland said he’s heard nothing but positive comments in the community. It’s a great opportunity to get their youth back in the school facility so they’re not anywhere else, he noted.

School Superintendent Dr. Erich May said that it’s the best case scenario to keep the building and property in the hands of the community and benefitting the whole community.

Widmyer wetlands

Warm Springs Watershed Association president Kate Lehman requested the school board’s permission to seek grant funding for three projects to enhance the Widmyer Elementary wetlands.

The group wants to construct a raised entrance to the wetlands along with a boardwalk to cover two wet areas along the wetlands path, one at the entrance and the other further in, Lehman said. These areas stay wet and weedy despite their regular weeding. It discourages wetlands visitors.

The association also wants to construct a bridge over the creek at the far end of the wetlands to create a loop so people could extend their walk on the track to include the wetlands path and the informational kiosks, she said. They want to make the path ADA-compliant and create signage for the loop.

Their group isn’t asking for any school board money, Lehman said. The projects would be installed by volunteers over two years as grants are acquired.

The Widmyer wetlands capture, slow and filter stormwater runoff from U.S. Route 522 and the steep hillside on the road’s east side, which helps reduce flooding downstream, she said. The wetlands are a learning environment for county students. Berkeley Springs High School students have done water quality tests on Warm Springs Run and the wetlands and high school and elementary students have done flora and fauna surveys.

Close gave Lehman their permission to pursue grant funding for the project. He and board members Pete Gordon and Rowland expressed their support for the Widmyer wetlands learning space along with the watershed association’s green stormwater management work to prevent flooding. Rowland said he would measure the wetlands path for the signage.

Other actions

The school board approved pay application #5 for $858,796 for the Berkeley Springs High School Building C gymnasium building and Building D vocational building renovations as approved by W. Harley Miller Contractors.

The board approved a list of school support organizations that could do fundraisers and collect funds in the name of Berkeley Springs High School, Warm Springs Middle School and Pleasant View Elementary for the 2018-2019 school year.

The board okayed a Warm Springs Middle School student field trip to tour the Fed-Ex Redskins Stadium and Field in Landover, Maryland. The date will be determined. The funding source is a middle school fundraiser.

Minutes discussion

Board president Close moved to strike Superintendent May’s, JRowland’s and Close’s comments about selling the observatory from the public comments section of the minutes for their August 21 board meeting, along with a Back to School nights comment Close made under reports that he felt wasn’t needed. He considered the comments public relations.

Close maintained that just official board actions should be included in their meeting minutes and not board opinions unless it fell under an action item being voted on and explained their vote.

Superintendent May said striking his comments takes out the whole rationale behind selling the observatory to the church from the minutes. Robert’s Rules of Order discussed meeting minutes showing opinions on both sides of a question. May felt it’s important to show board comments during contentious topics with disagreement.

Board member Eric Lyda said he liked the expanded comments for members of the public in those minutes but noted that none of his comments during the observatory conversation were listed. He was the most vocal board member in that discussion.

Board member Rowland felt Lyda’s multiple comments should’ve been in the minutes too. Rowland noted that the board update is the only place for the public to see what’s happening at school board meetings. Close said the board could review information on minutes and discuss the issue at their next meeting.

Before their vote board member Laura Smith said she was trained that less is better for board minutes and would vote to exclude their comments.

Board vice-president Gordon also voted to strike those board comments saying it wasn’t an action item and was public comment. Lyda said he’d vote to exclude their comments as some board comments shouldn’t be included with the exclusion of others.

The school board voted 4-1 to strike those three board member comments and Superintendent May’s comment from the August 21 minutes. Rowland cast the dissenting vote.