Carroll County's plans for a new alternative school are on hold as the Board of Education and county commissioners continue to wrangle over the cost of the project.
Designed to house 150 middle school and high school students who need special education programs or other alternative schooling because of behavioral and emotional problems in traditional settings, the Gateway School was scheduled for construction this summer and expected to open in August 2002.
But school officials have struggled with the cost of the project for months, trying to meet the budget set by the county commissioners, who have pledged $2.5 million toward construction of the $4.9 million project. The state has agreed to cover the remainder of the construction costs.
Preliminary plans for the school - slated for a 9 1/2 -acre site behind Robert Moton Elementary School outside Westminster - were scaled back nearly a year ago to eliminate expensive extras, such as arching windows, cupolas and glass hallways connecting a string of classroom pavilions. Provisions for an elementary program at the alternative facility also were cut.
But when bids for the project came in $1.3 million over budget last month, school construction staff pared the building further, doing away with plans for a ball field, shrinking the parking lot and downgrading the exterior of the building from masonry to metal siding with a 3-foot masonry wall before finally settling on an even less costly cement-based siding.
The reductions drew complaints from school board members, who wondered whether the project had been so scaled back as to render it worthless.
"Are we really reducing the quality of this school so that we're cheapening it to the point of maybe having to look at another facility?" board President Susan W. Krebs asked. "I don't want to look a year from now and see the sides falling off."
Raymond Prokop, the school system's construction supervisor, responded: "We had a dollar amount we had to meet and we compromised the building to meet that."
But board members asked whether a compromise at the expense of students who must attend Gateway is worth the savings.
They plan to meet with the commissioners next month to see whether county government would be willing to add money to the project. In past meetings between the two boards, however, the commissioners have maintained that the Board of Education should work within the budget allocated for the Gateway project.
"Their existing position is that the amount they've agreed to is the amount they've agreed to," said Ted Zaleski, county budget bureau chief. "There has been some acknowledgement by the board of commissioners that [the school board] should not have to give up everything it is giving up on this project, but that was not followed up by an offer to supplement the budget. There has been no indication of the willingness of the commissioners to put in more money."