School size issue settled

Century High to hold 1,200 students, boards agree at joint meeting

Option for expansion

Commissioners back plan for new school in Westminster

May 06, 1999|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Two new high schools -- one in Eldersburg and the other in Westminster -- are on track to open by 2002 and will accommodate up to 2,800 students, under a plan approved by the school board and county commissioners yesterday.

In an unusual joint meeting of the boards at dawn, officials ended a two-month battle over the schools and agreed to open one, Century High School in South Carroll, at its original size of 1,200 students with the option of expanding classroom accommodation by up to 400 seats if needed.

The boards also agreed to go ahead with a second high school in the Westminster area.

The meeting helped smooth the boards' relationship, which has been rocky since March because of disputes over other school construction projects that are over budget and have resulted in lawsuits.

Most recently, the two boards clashed over funding issues for the two new high schools; the size of $28 million Century High; and whether a second high school in the Westminster area was necessary.

"I think everybody walked out of here happy today," said school board President Gary Bauer. "I'm glad we're moving the Century project along on schedule."

The Board of Education voted to redesign Century with a media center and cafeteria to accommodate 1,600 students, at a cost of $500,000, a plan outlined by architect Gary K. Blanton, vice president of SHW Group Inc. of Calverton.

The county commissioners voted to "concur" with the school board's decision to expand Century's two facilities for a 1,600student population -- and then voted to endorse a commitment to build a second high school in Westminster.

Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier abstained on both votes.

"The next question is, when are you going to build the additional seats?" Frazier asked after the meeting. "I think we should do it now -- with today's dollars."

Frazier and Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge threatened last month to withhold funding for Century High School if school officials did not agree to redesign the facility to hold 1,600 students.

Gouge said she was pleased with the outcome of yesterday's meeting.

School officials and some Westminster parents worried that a larger high school in Eldersburg would mean a loss of state funding for a new high school in Westminster, expected to cost about $29.4 million.

That prospect concerned Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who said yesterday county voters would not support another tax increase for a second Westminster high school if state funding dried up.

"That's another debate in two years," Dell said of the unresolved funding issues.

Requests for the first construction bids for Century were expected to go out this week and grading is set for July, said Kathleen Sanner, a school board official. The school will be built next to Linton Springs Elementary School near Liberty Road in Eldersburg.

In the meantime, SHW Group is expected to complete a feasibility study for a new Westminster high school this month, Sanner said. That school was planned to be located next to Cranberry Station Elementary School, which will open in August.

But Frazier and Gouge are spearheading an effort to sell part of the 115acre Cranberry parcel and search for a new site for the high school -- away from the busy Route 140 corridor, Gouge said yesterday.

School board member Susan Krebs, who lives in Eldersburg, said she was pleased after yesterday's votes.

"The communication between both boards has been great," Krebs said. "All of the discussions have definitely moved in the positive. We're now building two 1,200-student schools. We're fine on all of that -- there's no question mark anymore."

Century, a 200,000-square-foot school, was planned in response to rapid development in South Carroll, which has strained Liberty High School. The school, built for 1,200, is more than 400 students over capacity with an enrollment of 1,605.

Grass-roots groups have been formed to monitor school crowding and redistricting issues. Representatives of one group, Citizens for Schools, attended yesterday's meeting and left relieved.

"I am happy because they are going to build both high schools," said Vicki Anzmann, co-chairwoman of the group. "This is what we've worked for. We all worked together for the same goal and are on the same page now."

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