On a recent visit to Cumberland, the topic of whether to build a new Allegany High School on Seton Drive dominated every conversation.
To a person, the decision to go forward with the current plan was deemed unwise for at least three reasons: (1) an ever-shrinking student body that more smartly merits a merger with Fort Hill High School; (2) the high cost of ill-conceived construction passed on to taxpayers; and, (3) safety issues related to a school filled with teenaged drivers on a mountaintop road accessible only by other mountainous roads — think wintry, icy roads after a February basketball game.
Born in Cumberland and a proud 1976 graduate of Allegany, I admit to having been away from the area for most of my adult life. Still I suppose, once a Camper always a Camper.
Since I had already planned to drop by good old Alco to see if I could take a trip down memory lane, I now made it my business to “inspect” the 1925 building for its suitability in a 21st century world. (As an aside, the school staff could not have been more friendly or accommodating, even unlocking the doors to the auditorium so I could return to the stage where my senior class performed the musical, Oklahoma!)
What I discovered on my walkthrough was a grand old building in need of a major facelift in order to provide today’s Cumberland kids with the same educational experience enjoyed by their peers in Carroll, Howard and Montgomery counties.
I cannot speak with competency to the details and interplay of the school board’s budgeting and strategy discussions that led to the decision to build a new Allegany while also maintaining Fort Hill.
I can only hope that wise people made their best attempt to get it right. What I can share as a long-time resident of the Baltimore-Washington area is that the decision to not merge Allegany and Fort Hill Schools will most certainly tie the hands of the Western Maryland congressional and General Assembly delegations for years to come on other funding requests for Allegany County school and infrastructure projects.
From a purely cost-benefit analysis, it makes little sense to people outside of Cumberland for Maryland taxpayers to help underwrite two small highs so close to one another.
While many in Cumberland may believe they live in a forgotten part of the state, there is greater awareness of the region’s culture and traditions than may be readily apparent.
For example, as one who has lived in Anne Arundel, Carroll, Charles and Howard counties, I can attest to the fact that it is generally understood by folks downstate that Cumberland is a “football” town.
The question becomes whether a 21st-century Cumberland is well served by being overly invested in a football rivalry between two small high schools.
In closing, I cannot help envisioning the uplifting benefit of a unified “super” school representing all of the city’s residents.
Imagine a 1,600-student Cumberland High School football team wearing state-of-the-art Under-Armor uniforms that combine the red of Fort Hill with the blue of Allegany.
Imagine a world-class music program that produces the state’s best marching band. And, imagine increased football revenues that can be used to help underwrite sports and activities for all students.
I love to live in the past as much as the next guy. The days of Camper and Sentinel ball games are seared in my memory.
The time has probably come for Cumberland to embrace a new future where one outstanding high school creates great memories for the kids yet to be born.