The Fort Smallwood conundrum Building a new school would address long-term need in Pasadena.

July 30, 1996

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY'S school board must chose between renovating Fort Smallwood Elementary or building an entirely new school on another site. First, it must answer an integral question: Does it intend simply to address the school's current overcrowding or is it interested in a long-term solution that will accommodate future growth on the Pasadena peninsula?

There is no argument about the inadequacy of the 19-year old building that currently houses Fort Smallwood Elementary. Designed for 250 students, it currently serves more than 400. The building can be expanded to accommodate the current enrollment, but adding space for 200 students beyond that would be difficult because of the septic system. Also, the building was designed for open classrooms, which means renovation is more than just throwing up some partitions. The building's electrical and mechanical systems will have to be completely redone. In effect, this renovation will be more akin to major reconstruction.

Building a new school on a new site would enable the board to fashion a 600-pupil facility, more in line with the size of other area elementaries. Obviously, constructing a new school would cost more than renovating the existing one. The board could use the prototype design used in the just-completed, 600-student Jacobsville Elementary nearby. Jacobsville's cost was about $9.5 million, which calls into question the $11.7 million figure bandied about in discussions about a new Fort Smallwood.

Concern about the size of the state's contribution, if any, is another major factor. Gov. Parris N. Glendening's philosophy of curbing sprawl has translated generally into a school construction reimbursement policy that favors renovation over new construction. Building a new school might mean that the county would have to pay the entire cost. But at this point, no one knows for sure if the state Interagency Committee on School Construction would finance either project.

Although renovation often makes more sense, in this case, building a new school seems the preferable option. Expanding the existing elementary school would be a stop-gap answer to resolve existing overcrowding. But in short order, based on projected growth in Pasadena, the school would be overcrowded again.

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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