New limits on building high school

To meet budget cap, officials offer design changes, reductions

Smaller campus proposed

Facility is planned to reduce crowding at Westminster High

November 24, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Looking to cut costs and stay on schedule, Carroll County school officials proposed yesterday four redesigns for a new Westminster high school, all of which call for a smaller campus and less practice space for athletic teams.

The two least-expensive proposals would also eliminate classrooms and reduce enrollment capacity.

School officials and their hired architects -- who presented sketches to the school board and county commissioners at a joint meeting -- were trying to meet a $30 million budget cap set by the commissioners last month.

The proposals vary, but all are at least $1.9 million over the cap. The commissioners, who hinted they might be flexible on cost, are expected to decide next week how much they will spend on the school, which is to be constructed next to Cranberry Station Elementary.

School officials said they must have a design approved by Dec. 17 if the building is to open on time in 2002.

One of the most significant proposed changes is to build the entire campus -- including the football field -- on the same side of Center Street. That would reduce the size of the campus from 58 acres to 35 acres. School officials said that 50 acres is traditionally recommended for a high school.

Earlier plans called for a football field and two of the school's four other athletic fields to be across Center Street. Under the new designs, two fields would be eliminated.

No vote was taken, but most school board members and commissioners seemed satisfied the changes offered the best hope for reducing spending while moving ahead with a project that is intended to ease enrollment pressure at Westminster High School.

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said she liked the decision to move the stadium, which means students will not have to cross Center Street -- by road or tunnel -- for games or physical education classes.

But eliminating two athletic fields raised concerns. School board member Susan W. Krebs said sports teams -- especially during the crowded fall season -- might be hard-pressed to find adequate practice space.

Krebs has long favored finding a different location for the school.

"I should be excited about building this new high school," Krebs said. "But it's hard for me to get excited when I feel like we're cutting corners."

Recent cost estimates for the project -- before the commissioners asked for the $30 million cap -- were around $38 million.

The four designs offered yesterday:

Building the school as planned with the football stadium on the same side of Center Street. Cost: $35.4 million.

Building the school as planned, but eliminating the football stadium bleachers and concession stands. The football field would remain, but the football team might have to use Westminster High School's stadium for games. Cost: $34.8 million.

Eliminating an auxiliary gymnasium, art room, activity room and several classrooms; reducing enrollment from 1,200 to 900; and building the football field and stadium as planned. Cost: $32.6 million.

Eliminating the auxiliary gym, art room, activity room and several classrooms; reducing enrollment to 900; and eliminating the football stadium bleachers and concessions stands. Cost: $31.9 million.

The architects said further cuts could be made by removing back-up mechanical systems or cutting 270 parking spaces.

Sherri-Le Bream, Westminster High principal, asked the commissioners to fund the $34.8 million design. She said without a second gymnasium, basketball teams, the wrestling team and cheerleaders would be forced to juggle schedules, forcing some to practice late at night.

Bream also expressed concern that outdoor teams would have limited space without all four practice fields, but said the need to relieve crowding in her facility meant the new school had to be built on time.

"A number of students went to private schools this year Because parents did not want to send them to an overcrowded school," Bream said.

The commissioners decided last week to build the high school at the Cranberry site. Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier -- who favored the O'Farrell property north of Westminster -- made an 11th-hour appeal yesterday to reconsider the location.

Frazier said seeing the scaled-back designs further convinced her the project would be better off elsewhere. Noting that enrollment at Westminster High was lower than expected this year, Frazier said it would be worth delaying the project to find a quality site.

"I don't do this to say we should not build another high school -- it just may not be as urgent to accomplish it in two years," Frazier said. "I can't understand why we want to work on a site that is so difficult when we have an option of 60 acres to work with, without all of these problems."

Gouge said, however, Frazier's plan assumes the county can sell the Cranberry property. That site, she stressed, is not zoned for commercial use and would have to be rezoned to sell it.

"Everyone keeps talking about selling this site and getting millions of dollars to put into the O'Farrell property," Gouge said. "The bottom line is at no time has a government body rezoned property they own to resell it. It is something that would not be looked on in a positive manner. It's something I'm not interested in doing."

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