A second high school for Westminster OK'd

Planning commission approves site plan for scaled-down version

May 17, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

After months of public debate, the Carroll County planning commission gave the green light yesterday to building a $35.4 million second Westminster high school, a scaled-down version of the original proposal on Center Street.

In a 3-1 vote, board members Melvin E. Baile Jr. and David L. Brauning joined county Commissioner Donald I. Dell in approving site plans for the school, which will be built next to Cranberry Station Elementary.

Maurice "Ed" Wheatley voted against the proposed school. He voiced concerns about its location and also a plan that has the high school and elementary school sharing athletic fields.

Because Chairwoman Deborah L. Ridgely could not attend the meeting, Vice Chairman Edward M. Beard presided and did not vote. Dell serves as an ex-officio member of the five-person panel and can vote in a member's absence.

The 1,200-student high school would be on a 37-acre parcel that was the Westminster Nursery property, making the site 13 acres smaller than what officials typically recommend for a high school campus. Wheatley spoke in favor of selling the current site and building on 80 acres of farmland, known as the O'Farrell property, at the southwest corner of Sullivan and Lemmon roads, just north of Westminster.

"A new high school site will serve tomorrow's students. It also will serve their children's children," Wheatley told his colleagues, encouraging them to think of this as a 30- or 40-year commitment rather than a quick fix to crowding at Westminster High. "While my opposition will probably make no difference at this point, I cannot in good faith support this site."

For months, plans for the high school have been the focus of public debate. Westminster parents have been lobbying for a second school despite lack of state funding, which could leave the cost in the hands of county taxpayers.

Others have criticized the location, questioned whether enrollment supported a second school and accused the school system of rushing the project before resolving problems in the construction department.

Before yesterday's meeting, Wheatley, one of the most vocal critics of the site, said he resisted mixing elementary and high school athletes.

"I want them to be kids as long as possible," he said.

"I want them to believe in the Easter Bunny. And if they will become addicted to drugs, I would rather they do it at 15 instead of 6 to 12."

School officials shrank the plan for the high school campus in November, squeezing the school building, parking lot, stadium and athletic fields on the same side of Center Street rather than using both sides of the street.

The two sides are connected by a $150,000 tunnel under Center Street. The tunnel was constructed when school officials thought high school athletic fields would be across the street.

The new design, which keeps the high school on one side of the street, saved the school system money and eliminated two fields.

But Dell and school support services Director Kathleen Sanner said yesterday that the school system might consider using a portion of the land across Center Street for multipurpose fields. "What hasn't changed is some very difficult topography," Sanner said of the steep and rocky slope. "It could be done at some expense, but it is achievable."

The school project would be in three phases -- preparation to level the site; construction of the school buildings; and improvements to nearby Gorsuch Road. The county is expected to release a mass grading permit as soon as sediment control measures are in place. While contractors are grading, the county will finish reviewing site plans.

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