Board studies plan for school

Key factor is cost of center for disabled, disruptive students

May 28, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Even as they praised the ambitious objectives of a future alternative school for troubled students, Howard County school board members reiterated last night that money will ultimately determine the scope of the project.

After a meeting last week that left board members with questions about plans for the school, a workshop was held last night to study the alternative learning center's space requirements and curriculum in greater detail.

The school -- which would open in 2001 -- would be unique in Howard County, serving middle and high school students who have been disruptive or have emotional disabilities.

"There's a lot of ambiguity about this project," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.

"We're plowing new ground so to speak. The alternative learning center is essentially a school. It's a very special school."

Ideally, the school would have more than 60,000 square feet of space at an estimated cost of more than $100 per square foot.

Board members agreed that much of the space was justified, but there were concerns about whether the final price would be feasible.

"I'm just not sure how we're going to be able to do all of this," said board Vice Chairman Stephen C. Bounds. "Funding is going to be an issue with this facility."

Associate Superintendent Sydney Cousin said the project as planned would cost $8 million.

The initial budget for the school is about $6 million, although that amount will have to be recalculated once the specifi cations are final, Cousin said.

"There are things in here that I still think need to be looked at," Cousin said. "Each 1,000 square feet of space costs $100,000."

Members of the planning committee for the alternative school have stressed that it needs extra space to keep individual programs separate yet connected to the main building.

Three groups would attend the school: students who have been extremely disruptive in their regular schools; emotionally disabled students who receive special education; and violent students, including those returning from juvenile detention.

"Some of these kids we're not going to cure," said Eugene Streagle, an instructional coordinator for the school system. "But we're going to provide them with the skills and the tools to control their own destiny."

Because of the students' needs, the alternative learning center also must strike a balance between offering students a traditional education and supporting them emotionally, committee members said.

"Until we address the emotional problems, the drug and alcohol problems, and all of the other things that set these kids off, we can teach them all we want about academics, but it's just going to swirl around," Streagle said. "I think the academics are important, but you need to understand all the other things that are connected to this."

Board Chairwoman Karen B. Campbell said the school could be worth the extra money in the long-run.

"I don't have any trouble justifying the money for this kind of facility," Campbell said. "I don't have reservations about adopting the [educational specifications] for a facility [where] we do what we want to do for those kids."

Pub Date: 5/28/99

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