Board continues on path for 2nd Westminster high school

Funds transfer approved even as commissioners voice doubts on its need

March 09, 2000|By David L. Greene and Brenda J. Buote | David L. Greene and Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The Carroll school board forged ahead yesterday with plans to build a second high school in Westminster, even as the county commissioners continue to waver over funding for the $34.5 million project.

The school board voted yesterday to transfer $2 million to begin preliminary construction work at a site adjacent to Cranberry Station Elementary, where the high school is expected to open in 2002.

The board also approved a final design for the planned 1,200-student school and sent those sketches to the Maryland State Department of Education, which will decide this spring whether to partially fund the project.

Vicki Anzmann, co-chairwoman of Citizens for Schools, a parent group pushing for the new school, urged the panel to move forward because Westminster High School is crowded and needs relief.

"Are we comfortable with a high school that's the size of a small city?" Anzmann asked at the meeting.

Westminster High enrolls about 2,250 students, though its capacity is supposed to be 2,000.

Ray Prokop, Carroll's school construction supervisor, stressed the school board could not delay the project if it wants the school to open on schedule.

"Time is critical," he said.

Despite the school board's actions, the project remains uncertain.

At an afternoon meeting between the commissioners and school board, Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier said the commissioners are studying whether Westminster needs a new school.

"We're looking at the big picture and trying to figure out the best way to spend our money. We want to make sure we're spending funds in the best way for educating our children," Frazier told the school board.

For weeks, she has pointed to revised enrollment projections that suggest Westminster High will not be as crowded as previously thought. Frazier said she favored examining other options to relieve crowding.

"Given the information we now have, we should take a second look. The enrollment numbers have taken a dive," she said.

The commissioners' support is imperative for the project to move forward. The school system is waiting to hear from the state about help funding the project. Until then, the county would have to pay for any work.

The school board's action yesterday would move $2 million into the project from the construction fund for Century High, opening in South Carroll in fall 2001. The money eventually would be returned to the Century project.

The commissioners must act on the $2 million transfer within 30 days. Their approval would be the first indication of whether to build the school.

Board members C. Scott Stone, Ann M. Ballard and Gary W. Bauer voted to transfer the funds. Joseph D. Mish Jr. was absent.

Board member Susan W. Krebs was the lone dissenter, saying it was "fiscally irresponsible" to move ahead without county or state approval.

"I would prefer to get a commitment from the commissioners and fund it appropriately," she said. "We have nothing in writing."

Yesterday's events perpetuated an increasingly complex debate over whether to build the high school.

Although the commissioners approved spending $34.5 million for the project in December, they have begun to reconsider.

In the weeks since, residents and local officials -- most notably Frazier and Krebs -- have supported considering alternatives to relieve crowding at Westminster High. The two boards will hold another joint meeting to discuss the project.

The vote to approve a design for the high school yesterday was unanimous.

The board tabled a vote on whether to approve a $1.3 million contract with a construction manager for a new high school in Westminster.

Ballard and Krebs wondered aloud why the contract would cost about $500,000 more than a similar contract at Century High, when the two schools were designed identically.

The board is expected to take up the issue during a meeting Monday.

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