School headquarters in Hampstead? Town's proposal better than previous one, but still raises many questions.

February 15, 1996

IN THE CONTINUING saga to find a new headquarters site for the Carroll County education department, Hampstead's mayor and council have come up with an intriguing proposal: Rehabilitate the old Hampstead Elementary for that purpose and help revitalize the town's Main Street in the process.

The plan makes more sense than converting a polluted industrial plant site, as the county commissioners had proposed, but it, too, raises a number of issues.

Location of the school board headquarters is the pivotal question. Should the school system have its major administrative building in the county seat of Westminster, or not?

Once that question is answered satisfactorily, the Board of Education will be better able to evaluate Hampstead's proposal.

School administrators also must determine whether easy access to all county schools is an important criteria. If so, Westminster is about the most accessible location in Carroll. In off-peak hours, the drive from just about any school in the county is 20 minutes or less to Westminster. No other location provides such access. Is it important to have the school board headquarters close to the county office building? If that answer is yes, then moving the administrative center to Hampstead doesn't make much sense.

Does the county want to assist in the revitalization of the business districts in Carroll's towns? Keeping the headquarters in Westminster would sustain the current effort. Relocating 175 to 200 employees who now work on the edge of the downtown area would set it back.

By the same token, moving such a sizable work force to Hampstead would be a boon for the eastern Carroll town of 2,800 residents, providing local retailers and restaurants with a steady source of customers.

Can the old school be converted at a reasonable cost to meet the system's needs? Does it have sufficient space to house the current number of employees, and can it be expanded to accommodate future hires? How does the cost compare to new construction or the rehabilitation of other county-owned buildings?

Give Hampstead town officials credit for posing an plausible site for the school headquarters. But it is too early to say it is the optimum solution.

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