$7 million sought for new high school

Local leaders seek state reimbursement

January 25, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County officials asked the state Board of Public Works yesterday for $7 million to begin construction of a high school in Westminster, a $35 million project the county has begun in the hopes of reimbursement from the state.

The county also asked for the go-ahead to plan three other projects: a middle school in South Carroll, an auditorium for South Carroll High School and extensive renovations to North Carroll Middle School.

The county commissioners, surrounded by several school board members and the legislative delegation, thanked the board for past help and requested reimbursement for several completed projects.

Several officials said before the meeting that they expected to be chastised for the delegation's continued lack of support for Gov. Parris N. Glendening's programs, particularly Smart Growth, the initiative to control sprawl. Officials have said that the canceled state funding for several county road projects - including the Westminster and Manchester bypasses - was retaliation for that lack of support.

But, more humor than rancor marked yesterday's session at the State House, possibly because it occurred at the end of a long day of arguments over Memorial Stadium and other state projects unrelated to Carroll.

Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican delegation, prefaced his remarks with a mention of his "no" votes on Glendening's budgets and ended with compliments.

"We have fared well under your administration," Haines told the governor. "We look forward to your continued investment in our county."

That investment might include money for school projects, county officials said.

"We have been forward-funding since 1990, not knowing when the state money was coming in," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "We are finally building so that when schools open they don't have portables in the front yard."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell added, "My goal has been to eliminate portables. Our plans are doable, but we need state support to continue."

In the past 10 years, Carroll incurred $75 million in construction costs for six new schools and an addition to Sandymount Elementary in Finksburg. State reimbursement to date is $25 million. That figure includes $14 million the state contributed to construction of Century High School in Eldersburg, less than half its $35 million cost.

Funding withheld

The commissioners used the design of Century as a model to move ahead with Winters Mill High School, a 1,200-seat building that will serve the Westminster area. The state has withheld funding of what will be county's seventh high school, saying enrollment projections have not justified building the school, which is set to open in September 2002.

"We know that the numbers for a new Westminster high will be there in 2006," said Del. Carmen Amedori, a Westminster Republican. "We have to have vision and look ahead."

The high school also will free space at Westminster High for more career and technology programs, Gouge said.

"We need these classes to train our youth," she said.

Program nearing end

Winters Mill and a new South Carroll middle school mark the end of a 14-year school construction program that creates an inventory to support instruction, adapt to changing programs and provide room for growth, said Vernon Smith, assistant superintendent for administration.

Since 1972, the state has contributed $122 million to Carroll schools, an average $4 million annually, said Susan Krebs, president of the school board.

"Our citizens are appreciative because these contributions have allowed us to keep up with growth in a rapidly growing area," Krebs said. "We are now at the last schools in our long-range construction plan and can concentrate on the older schools which we have deferred for years."

The group put no dollar amount on the other three priority projects, asking only for planning approval. A fourth middle school in South Carroll is vital in the county's most populous area, officials said. Renovations are needed at 44-year-old North Carroll Middle School, and an 850-seat fine arts center would put South Carroll High School on a par with the county's other high schools, they said.

Carroll has a champion in state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, a county resident and former school board member, who sits on the public works panel with Glendening and Comptroller William Donald Schaefer. "South Carroll High School is the only one in the county without an auditorium and one is very much needed," Dixon said. He later added that he considered North Carroll renovations a necessary project when he served on the board 25 years ago. He promised that he would "keep an eagle eye view" on all Carroll's requests.

"And I will look out for the rest of the state," Schaefer added.

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