Deciding old school's future

Carroll County: Renovating Charles Carroll Elementary entails long-term commitment.

April 06, 2001

NEWER isn't necessarily better, but neither is older. It all depends on the standard of measurement.

That's the dilemma facing the Carroll County school board as it determines the fate of Charles Carroll Elementary School, which is the oldest and also the smallest in the county.

A school system committee as well as engineering consultants concluded that the 72-year-old, red-brick building in Silver Run could remain open -- with a few million dollars in repairs and renovations.

At least $1 million is needed to fix urgent health and safety deficiencies, including vulnerable water and septic systems. But other renovations required to bring the building up to today's standards will surely multiply that cost.

Closing the school could save about $500,000 a year, minus the extra expense of busing children to other elementary schools that have space available.

But Charles Carroll is more than a school.

It is a rural community center, with strong historical and emotional ties to generations of residents.

Parents and teachers alike want to keep the school open.

Had the committee recommended closure, the school board's decision would be easier. Operating-cost efficiencies dictate closing, given pressures to contain the bulging education budget.

But the state, which would pay two-thirds of the repair bills, favors renovating older schools. And there are educational advantages of a smaller school, even with its limited technology.

Because Charles Carroll is rated in "poor" physical condition, the board is forced to decide by May in setting its construction budget plan. No half-way, temporary measures will suffice.

Once renovations begin, the county is committed to using the building and maintaining it for the long term. The school board must be certain that its decision on Charles Carroll Elementary School is in the best interest, financially and educationally, of the entire county.

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