If County Council members were awed when the school's $251.5 million construction bill was characterized as conservative, they didn't show it.
No one flinched yesterday as Maurice Kalin, associate superintendent for planning and support, reeled off what he said were "conservative projections" being driven by the county's 1990 General Plan. The plan anticipates 2,500 new households a year -- a projection the county expects to see met this year despite a weakened economy.
Even without those new units, the school population is growing above projections, because of the number of births occurring in families already here, Mr. Kalin said.
Mr. Kalin expects the county to have at least 2,800 students more than what he originally forecast for the year 2000. The original forecast was for about 41,000 students.
"We will be 380-400 seats shy in elementary school, 1,100 seats shy in middle school, and 1,300 shy in high school," Mr. Kalin said.
"This year, we were right on the mark -- within 15 students of what we projected," he said. "We need to be absolutely sure we need the capacity before we ask for funds."
One problem is that the county's new adequate facilities law does not restrict development in an area until the elementary school there is 120 percent over capacity, Mr. Kalin said. "We are getting to the point where there is no flexibility" in terms of redistricting, busing, or using relocatable classrooms to accommodate overflow students.
Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, suggested the county could save $40 million if schools were open year round.
"On the other hand," said Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, "there would be no recreation program" for out-of-school students. "Government is not responsible for baby-sitting, but the day-care issue is going to be an enormous problem," she said.
Another way the county could save money, Mr. Kalin said, is by building one new super high school for about 2,600 students rather than two smaller high schools.
"That would create a radically different philosophy," said school board member Karen Campbell. Ms. Campbell said she attended a high school that size herself and liked it, but "it would be counter-productive to make a school that different" in the county.
Mr. Drown said he expects the county will be closing some schools in 10 to 12 years, but Mr. Kalin disagreed.
"I don't see a dramatic decrease," he said. "I think it's going to stabilize 10 years out. I think we're adding less [schools] than we need, not more," he said.
"The main thing is to build schools that can be converted to something else," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "We have to maintain flexibility." As an example, Mr. Ecker said new schools should be built next to shopping centers and should have additional plumbing so that when no longer needed for children, they could be converted to apartments for the elderly.
School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said the school board will also be looking at other cost-cutting alternatives at its Nov. 24 meeting.
The council will conduct a public hearing Monday night on the school board proposal and will vote on the measure Dec. 7.