Wish lists presented at school board hearing Growing enrollment, aging facilities among topics at budget meeting

October 02, 1998|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Parents, education advocates and students presented their wish lists to Howard County school board members last night, hoping to influence the final outcome of the superintendent's proposed $35.48 million capital budget for next year.

A recurring theme at the hourlong public hearing was growth and money to accommodate the swelling ranks of Howard County schools. There was uniform support for Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's request for $1.9 million in planning funds for a new high school in the Fulton area, which is set to open in 2002.

Representatives of the PTA Council of Howard County urged the board to push to get the school built on time. The school will cost about $29 million.

"The current enrollments at all levels, plus continued growth in the River Hill and Howard high school districts, will cause serious overcrowding if the new eastern high school is not built on schedule in Fulton," said Susan Poole, president of the council.

"Please do not accept the argument that larger additions to existing high schools will solve the overcrowding issue," Poole said. "They will not, because additional classrooms cannot enlarge hallways, media centers, cafeterias, gymnasiums and other core facilities."

Poole also questioned whether the school system could afford to wait until 2004 and 2006 to open the additions planned for Howard and Oakland Mills high schools -- part of Hickey's proposed capital program for 2001-2005.

"Enrollment at all levels is burgeoning in the northeast region, and will continue to grow," she said.

School officials have predicted that elementary and middle school populations will level off in 2003 and 2006 respectively, and that the number of high school students will continue to increase until 2010, peaking at 16,167.

The plea was no different from that of those speaking on behalf of the elementary and middle schools.

Anne Darr, chairwoman of the growth and planning committee for Fulton Elementary School, said the facility was only a handful of pupils shy of needing a fifth kindergarten class. Hickey's five-year capital improvement proposal seeks $812,000 for an addition to Fulton to open in five years.

"We may need that addition before 2003," Darr said.

Several people expressed concerns about aged heating/ventilation/air-conditioning units in schools such as Howard High, where the system failed on the first day of school.

Hickey has requested $7 million for systemic renovations at several schools, including Jeffers Hill Elementary in Columbia, Glenwood Middle, Harper's Choice Middle in Columbia and Howard High in Ellicott City.

"Howard High School's heating and air-conditioning system is a complete failure," said Cathi Higgins, who is on the board of directors of the Wheatfield Homeowners Association. She noted that the air quality was "code red" on the day the air conditioning went out.

"The heat index was 105 degrees," Higgins said. "In the winter, it will undoubtedly continue to fail. We consider this a health issue that needs to be addressed now."

There was strong support for the proposed $7.8 million renovation of Ellicott Mills Middle School, which is almost 60 years old.

"It is lacking in some of the most basic requirements," said Elizabeth Haynes, a member of the Ellicott Mills improvement committee. "Ellicott Mills is inaccessible to the handicapped. The entire seventh grade is on the second floor, which can only be accessed by stairs."

The school board will hold a public work session and vote at 7: 30 p.m. Tuesday.

Pub Date: 10/02/98

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