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The Enterprise: Franchot visits St. Mary's elementary school, volunteer fire department

Starting his St. Mary’s tour in Mechanicsville, Comptroller Peter Franchot (D) visited Leonardtown last week to tour Capt. Walter Francis Duke Elementary School and also present a William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award to volunteer firefighter Thomas A. Mattingly Sr.

Franchot toured the school building as part of his role as a state board of public works member, which approves public school construction funding.

The two-story school building earned LEED “Gold” certification and includes a range of eco-friendly elements including solar panels, rain barrels, green roofing and a lighting control system. The state contributed $12.7 million toward the $27.1 million project during fiscal years 2014 and 2015, a release states.

Franchot said Thursday “it’s a benefit to” teach children how to be eco-friendly.

He said the school was “not an expensive” building to construct, that the tactic is “something [St. Mary’s school staff] can teach your peers.”

Larger school systems, like Montgomery County public schools, don’t seem to maintain their school buildings to the same level St. Mary’s public school staff does, he said.

Board member Jim Davis said it was his mission as a board member to “watch the costs” of the public schools. He said to Franchot he’s “learned a lot” over the last year since he was elected, and St. Mary’s public schools are a “first-class educational system.”

Cathy Allen, vice chairwoman, said the school, which opened in August 2015, was built to last 50 years rather than the standard 25 years. She said the school’s “surfaces that stand up to the heavy use” like carpets and walls are well maintained.

Allen said children benefit from the additional daylight that streams through larger windows.

Franchot said he “loves the outdoor light” that shown through the hall windows as he toured the building with school board members, Superintendent Scott Smith and St. Mary’s County Commission President Randy Guy (R). Principal Beth Ramsey said she and school staff were very excited to have Franchot tour the building on Thursday. The school houses water silos that collect rain water to be used “for non-drinking purposes, basically for flushing the toilets,” Ramsey said.

“This saves thousands of gallons of water every year,” Ramsey said.

On the roof, succulent plants help collect rain water “and funnel it into the silos,” Ramsey said. There are also rain barrels at the outdoor classroom on the second floor of the school that students can monitor, she said.

Along with solar panels on the roof, students can use an “interactive kiosk [to see] how much water and electricity we are using,” Ramsey said, adding that the kiosk is also a weather station.

The principal said there are also “Green Tips” signs posted throughout the school, including reminders to recycle. She said a recycling committee, led by third-graders, creates “challenges” for grade levels to see who is recycling more. Teachers “take any opportunity to bring students” to the school’s outdoor classroom and garden atrium, Ramsey said. Second-graders plant vegetables in the spring and fall, and then harvest and donate them to the schools’ outreach program, which “supports needy families in the Duke Communities [and] families were able to pick up fresh produce every week during the summer as well,” she said.

Franchot also stopped at the Leonardtown Volunteer Fire Department to present the William Donald Schaefer Helping People Award to Mattingly.

The former three-term St. Mary’s commissioner received the award for his support of and fundraising efforts for the Leonardtown Volunteer Fire Department and national firefighters’ organizations like the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, according to the release.

Now in its third year, the foundation is “a fundraiser that Tommy started,” Ron Siarnicki, foundation executive director, said at the event. The foundation supports families of firefighters “who die in the line of duty,” he said, adding that a golf tournament fundraiser will be held at the Wicomico Shores golf course in September.

The comptroller started his St. Mary’s tour at The Apple Basket, a gift and antique shop in Mechanicsville. Owners Charlene and Nick Tsirigotis have “been in business for more than 30 years [and received] a proclamation” for their contribution to the economy and community, a release states.

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