Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin's refusal to approve plans to expand Spring Garden Elementary surprised some school board members and staff, leaving them to wonder what to do with a school so overcrowded that the first lunch shift begins two hours after pupils walk in the door.
The mayor told the Carroll County Board of Education on Tuesday night that he would not sign off on plans to build an addition at the school, effectively dashing the school system's intentions to add six classrooms without expanding the school's cafeteria, library and other common areas.
"The only thing we know for sure is that what we have, no one wants," said construction supervisor Raymond Prokop. "What they don't understand is that while they gave up one project, there is absolutely no guarantee that they're going to get another. If people think another project is a done deal in any way, shape or form, they're quite mistaken."
Prokop said he was calculating how much money has been spent on the project -- initial estimates were about $80,000 for design plans and a site evaluation -- and finalizing payments to consultants.
"There are definitely some costs in this job, costs that can never be retrieved," Prokop said.
School board members were forced to bump the Spring Garden addition lower on their list of construction projects Tuesday night after Nevin announced his refusal to proceed. Scheduled for completion in the spring of 2001, the $1.25 million project would have added classrooms for 150 students.
Although town officials approved plans for the addition a year ago, Nevin froze the project last month as school officials sought to begin construction. At their May 9 Town Council meeting, Hampstead council members supported the mayor's concerns that an addition would replace the school's eight portable classrooms without alleviating the strain on the building's cafeteria, gymnasium, art rooms and other infrastructure.
"The addition -- the way it was proposed without an increase in core facilities -- was just another name for portables," Nevin said yesterday in an interview. "It would have made a difficult situation a permanent solution and it shouldn't require heroic efforts on the part of school staff to make the school function smoothly every single day."
About 755 students attend the Hampstead school, which was built for 600 pupils in 1991 as the town population ballooned with new developments. The red-brick building on Boxwood Drive in the Roberts Field residential development at the south end of town is one of three elementary schools that serve the area.
School officials will re-evaluate the proposal, seeking input from the community and the county commissioners, to determine whether to redistrict students to ease Spring Garden's overcrowding or attempt to expand the school's core facilities -- space that would be expensive to expand because of the configuration of the school.
"Or we can not do anything for a while until the collective overcrowding is allowed to accumulate until a fourth elementary school is justified," said school board President C. Scott Stone.
In any case, the school board must return money that the state had approved for construction of the addition.
"It's so difficult for Carroll County to get money from the state. We are so poorly received in Annapolis," said school board member Ann M. Ballard. "Once we get money, to have to return it, it just goes against everything I feel." School board member Gary W. Bauer said he is not hopeful that a compromise will be reached.
"Unless the community is willing to accept the addition, I don't see any other way of handling the student capacity except with portables," Bauer said. "My gut feeling tells me they're not going to be able to find a solution that the community will be happy with."