Site for new high school disputed

Commissioner says Gorsuch Road parcel isn't safe enough spot

April 30, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

After years of planning and negotiating, Carroll County school board members thought they had found an appropriate site for the new Westminster high school, a $30 million project that has been on the drawing board since 1992.

The harsh reality: They may have to search again.

The county commissioners are considering selling a portion of the parcel bought in 1994 for the high school and for Cranberry Station Elementary, which is expected to open in August. Taxpayers spent $2.2 million to buy the 114.5-acre site on Cranberry Road from Westminster Nurseries Inc.

"I don't believe it's a safe place for the high school," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who opposed building the new Westminster high school there when she was a member of the planning commission. She would like to sell about 50 acres of the land along Gorsuch Road.

"The site is on one of the worst stretches of road in the county," Frazier said. "Putting inexperienced drivers there is just asking for trouble."

If plans for the new Westminster high school are changed, it won't be the first time. School officials had long planned to open the new school in Westminster in 2001, but South Carroll residents argued in 1997 that crowding in their area was more acute and refused to settle for additions to South Carroll and Liberty high schools.

As a result of the public outcry in the county's most populous area, the school board tabled plans for the Westminster high school, delaying the project for at least a year. The board made construction of a high school in Eldersburg a priority instead. Century High is expected to open in 2001.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who would like a second high school in the county seat, said he would not support the sale of the Westminster prop- erty if the proposal would cause further delays.

"I need to know what the proposal is, and I need to know what it's going to cost the county in terms of [possible delays] and cost," he said. "Right now, we're just discussing the possibility of selling that land."

Commissioners have not settled on another site, but are looking in the Westminster area, according to Frazier and Dell. Board president Julia Walsh Gouge could not be reached for comment.

In the past, the commissioners proposed redistricting and expanding schools instead of building a new one. The school board and Westminster city officials opposed the idea, pointing to enrollment projections that show there is a need for a new high school.

Figures from school officials indicate Westminster High School on Washington Road is crowded, accommodating 359 more students than its 2,000-student planned capacity. By 2002 it would have 2,592, and by 2004 it would have 2,707, according to projections released by Kathleen Sanner, director of school support services.

The potential for another delay has Westminster parents preparing a campaign -- following the example set by their counterparts in South Carroll two years ago.

"The Westminster school was supposed to open in 2002. That's what I want to see done," said Vicky Anzmann, co-chair of Citizens for Schools, a grass-roots group pushing for a second Westminster high school. "If it gets off track, it will be hard to get it rolling again," she added.

Anzmann and other county residents fear plans for the Westminster school will be shelved if Century High is expanded.

Frazier and Gouge last week proposed enlarging Century's cafeteria and media center, and possibly the fine arts center. The school's classroom capacity would remain at 1,200 students.

The commissioners and school board are trying to determine what can be done now to ensure that Century's capacity can be increased by 400 students in the future. However, no one wants to alter the construction schedule. The commissioners are expected to put the project out for bid in two months.

Dell said he is wary of changing the plans for Century.

"It's a matter for the school board to evaluate and discuss. It's not something you just snap your fingers and it happens," he said. "I still have concerns that it could knock out Westminster High. The indications are that that won't happen, but I know how the state funds things. They are not in the habit of funding empty seats. Period."

Said Yale Stenzler, the state's executive director of school construction: "Changes at Century may not affect the Westminster High School project. Chances are, if they're only planning for future expansion and not building for expanded capacity, the impact would be negligible."

Carroll school board president Gary W. Bauer agreed with Stenzler's assessment.

"My only concern is that the commissioners have another site located, that they're seriously considering, before they sell this site off," Bauer said.

Susan Krebs, his colleague on the six-member school board, said she shared Frazier's concerns about the Gorsuch Road location and potential traffic problems.

"I'm not married to that site, but I am married to the opening date," she said. "As long as the date is not compromised, I would rather not build a $30 million school in a less than ideal site."

Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/30/99

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