THE SCHOOL OFFICE SHUFFLE — moving staff from building to building and squeezing desks in any available space -- will continue as educators live with a county decision not to relocate the Board of Education to a former whiskey distillery building.
"I don't think anybody was too disappointed that the(County) Commissioners decided that was not a good decision," said Superintendent R. Edward Shilling, who along with school board membersraised concerns about the plan.
Swaying the commissioners were the recession, the reorganization of county government and the Department of Social Services' desire toextend its lease at the site, said Keith Kirschnick, assistant director of the county's public works department.
With the Department of Social Services continuing to lease space, the school board would have had to relocate its central office in two phases over several years, Kirschnick said.
The commissioners -- neither Donald I. Dell nor Elmer T. Lippy was on the board last summer when the government office expansion plan took shape -- were sympathetic to the school board's opposition to a phased-in move.
"As much a factor as anything is the budget," Kirschnick said.
"(The county) doesn't have the money to design, reconstruct or remodel for additional office space."
The county purchased three former whiskey distillery buildings in Westminster for $2.2 million as part of a plan to relieve overcrowdingin government offices and the courthouses in the next decade -- saving money for other pressing needs, such as schools and roads.
An earlier plan called for a new county office building at a cost between$11 million and $12 million.
County agencies would have moved into the new building, and the Board of Education would have moved into the current County Office Building.
The latest plan designated a former warehouse known as the Barrel House as the headquarters for thepublic schools, now housed in a wing of the Courthouse Annex.
Thecommissioners' decision has a domino effect on the county office-space crunch. The school staff, for example, will continue to operate out of the annex, the Winchester Building, the Multi-Service Center, the old Hampstead school and leased office space on Airport Drive.
By relocating the school's central staff to the distillery, the countywould have freed up space at the annex and at the Winchester Building for use by other agencies and the courts.
Kirschnick said there has been talk of establishing a task force to look at the space needsof all county agencies and to use its input to establish future capital improvement projects.
According to a recent planning study by the school staff, the district needs 62,000 square feet of office space -- a building that would be about the size of the new Piney Ridge Elementary School in Eldersburg.
Kathleen E. Sanner, assistant in school facilities, said the amount is a "conservative, ideal number and not extravagant."
The school's central staff, she said, has been expanded to meet the needs of a growing student enrollment. Adding staff means further crowding existing office space or shuffling an administrator to available space at another building.
Among the district's concerns about the distillery building were its structural soundness, inadequate heating and cooling system, and the lack of parking space in downtown Westminster. School officials estimate 150 parking spaces are needed for staff and visitors.
Sanner said the staff estimated it would cost at least $1 million to renovate the building's heating and cooling system. Board members had concerns about spending that much money on a building that would only be used on a short-term basis.
There were other concerns. Shilling said educators and board members were uncomfortable with housing school offices in a former whiskey distillery.
Meanwhile, in a related matter, Westminster City Councilwoman Rebecca Orenstein said the public improvement committee she chairs is looking at "everything for rent and for sale in Westminster" for additional city office space. She said she wanted tospeak to the commissioners about the Barrel House.