Board delays vote on school

More details sought on alternative center

May 14, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

It would be a school like no other in Howard County, an alternative learning center to serve dozens of the county's most emotionally troubled students, all under one roof.

But some Howard County school board members voiced concerns last night that plans for the alternative school might be too large and costly.

The board delayed voting on the building's specifications, and the issue will be taken up at a future work session.

"It's something that sounds wonderful and ideal," said board member Jane B. Schuchardt. "But I'm sure there are some areas that are going to have to be cut."

Associate Superintendent Sydney Cousin told school board members that general estimates for new school construction run about $106 a square foot.

In fall 2001, the county plans to open an alternative school for middle and high school students to educate three distinct populations: students who have been extremely disruptive in their regular schools; children with emotional disabilities who receive special education; and students who are violent and disruptive, including those returning from juvenile detention.

Because of the personalities of the students, the planning committee stressed that extra space is essential. The need to keep the three programs separated from one another but still attached to the main building further complicates the design, staff members said.

"That's a real challenge for the designer," said Cathleen Conley Young, an architect in the planning and construction office. "This school needs to be very different from the traditional school building."

Ideally, the facility would be more than 60,000 square feet, according to the plan.

"You're not dealing with one child who's disruptive," said Associate Superintendent Sandra Erickson. "You're putting children with similar problems together. You need a lot of space."

Board member Sandra H. French said she wasn't prepared to vote because she was unsure that the education component had gotten enough attention.

"This is supposed to be a school," French said. "I think you've handled the behavioral aspects. It's the academic piece I'm concerned about."

Stephen C. Bounds, the board's vice chairman, said he wasn't convinced that the alternative school would need so much classroom space, considering that many of the class sizes would be small.

"Dollars are certainly going to be an issue," he said.

Also at last night's meeting:

The board approved the design plan for renovations and additions to Glenelg High School. The improvements will increase the school's capacity to 1,400 students and include a two-story addition with 18 classrooms.

Built in 1958, Glenelg High was last renovated in 1987. The basic project will cost about $4.3 million, not including recommended improvements to the music, physical education and home economics areas. The project is scheduled to be finished in August 2001.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said that most of the county's schools had a trouble-free Monday, rumored to be the day that schools across the nation would be subject to some kind of attack. Fueled by threats said to have come from the Internet, the rumor led to a student absentee rate of 25 to 29 percent, he said.

"I was reminded of Orson Welles' famous broadcast of `The War Of The Worlds,' " Hickey said. "I feel very confident in saying the safest place for students to be on Monday was in any one of the Howard County schools."

Pub Date: 5/14/99

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