Commission wants school built larger

Century High capacity would grow to 1,600

3-year delay possible

School board objects to surprise change of plan

April 15, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Sun Staff

Century High School in southeastern Carroll should hold 1,600 students rather than the planned capacity of 1,200, according to the Board of County Commissioners, which is set to seek construction bids for the school in two months.

The increase in capacity is needed to accommodate population growth projections and will be reflected in the county's budget to be unveiled next week, Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier told surprised members of the Board of Education last night.

The change would require a redesign of the entire complex just as architectural and engineering plans for the school have been completed and with construction expected to begin this summer.

The change could delay the opening of the school for up to three years, school officials said.

Century High was planned in response to the rapid development that has overtaken Carroll's southeastern quadrant and strained enrollments at Liberty High School, where 1,605 students are enrolled this year -- 435 students over capacity.

Liberty was built for 1,200 students. It is so crowded that it has one-way corridors and ninth- graders eat lunch in the basement.

School board members protested the proposed changes in the Century project, saying a redesign would lead to construction delays that would worsen conditions at Liberty, predicted to be 566 students over capacity in 2001, the year Century is slated to open.

"We are in a crisis now. Today," said Susan Krebs of Eldersburg, a school board member. "For parents, a delay is critical."

Last night was the second time in a week that the commissioners sought to overturn plans approved by the school board -- and the news upstaged presentation of a 10-year facilities master plan by school officials.

Last week, the commissioners asked the school board to rethink its plans for a new high school and middle school in Westminster, and estimated savings of more than $32 million through redistricting and additions at existing schools.

The cost of increasing the capacity at Century High School would add $9.8 million to the $28 million project.

"Would the revenue stream be there?" asked Superintendent William H. Hyde, of the added cost. "I have cash-flow questions."

Parents had mixed reactions.

"I think they should make it larger," said Donna Slack of Eldersburg, who has two daughters at Liberty High. "Part of the problem that the school board has is not making the schools big enough in the first place. At one school, by the time it was built, there were more houses put up, so it opened overcapacity."

Claire Kwiatkowski, a parent from Sykesville, criticized the commissioners for wasting money on a new design for more students.

"You will do a rush job on a new design and end up with a lot of problems," Kwiatkowski said. "They should keep the design the way it was."

School officials and the commissioners promised to meet this week to address changing Century's design.

Frazier, however, challenged the school officials to get to work.

"We are set on having the school at 1,600. We believe it's the wise thing to do," she said. "Our staff has some ideas on how we can work it out and, if they are creative and clever, we can get this show on the road. I encourage you to talk about it quickly."

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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