More school focus urged

Residents request continued, and faster, building, renovation

Proposed construction plan

Other items discussed include career, tech programs, crowding

September 20, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

About 45 people gathered in the South Carroll High School auditorium last night to ask school officials to do more - and do it faster - on school construction and renovation projects in their areas.

Career and technology educators asked that their programs be expanded and their facilities renovated. State Sen. Timothy R. Ferguson, a Carroll Republican, stopped in with a personal story about how the skills he learned in drafting class at Eastern Vocational-Technical High School in Baltimore County in the early 1970s were "the only thing that kept me from destitution."

Parents from North Carroll Middle School asked that a $19.3 million renovation scheduled to be completed in 2004 not be delayed.

South Carroll High's Principal George Phillips joined several parents to implore the superintendent, school board and county commissioners to stop overlooking and delaying his school's needs.

"This building no longer remotely meets the standards for learning climate, technology or flexibility of use for a modern high school," said Phillips, whose school's addition and renovation have been pushed back six years to 2008. "It's more than 20 years since Liberty High School was built. Hasn't South Carroll made due with less long enough?"

Much of the conversation at last night's public hearing on the proposed school construction budget focused on other needs in growing South Carroll and Mount Airy.

In June, the school board unanimously approved a facilities master plan that contained gaps and uncertainties about projects in the southern portion of the county. The annually drafted document is a blueprint for the school system's capital spending and sets priorities for construction and renovation for the next decade.

Former school facilities director Kathleen Sanner, who took a job in July with Harford County schools, then invited representatives from Mount Airy, South Carroll, the county planning and budget offices, Maryland's Interagency Committee for State Public School Construction and the state planning office to work together to fill in the holes.

The group drafted a "miniplan" with short- and long-term proposals to relieve classroom crowding, which is expected to worsen as families buy and move into hundreds of homes planned in South Carroll and Mount Airy.

Among the quick fixes is a suggestion to "immediately revisit boundary lines" of the six area elementary schools and redistrict pupils to ease the worst of the overcrowding. The six schools - Mount Airy, Carrolltowne, Eldersburg, Linton Springs, Freedom and Piney Ridge - have 22 portable classrooms among them. Carrolltowne has six - the most of its neighboring elementary schools.

Included in the long-term plans are a new elementary and new middle school for the South Carroll-Mount Airy area. The $10.8 million elementary school for 600 pupils is slated to open in August 2004, while the $26.2 million middle school for 750 students is scheduled for an August 2006 opening.

Still, some Mount Airy parents expressed frustration that their schools' needs have been grouped with those of South Carroll.

"Our leaders have received our public input and pointed their fingers at one another with no commitment for the kids of Mount Airy," said Michele Johnson. "Nothing is being planned for our children but trailers and buses and new schools outside of our community."

Additions to Liberty High and Century High, which opened last month, are scheduled for January 2006 and January 2007, respectively.

The recommendation also includes a proposal for space being vacated at Westminster High - investing about $1 million to convert empty classrooms into a staff development and resource center.

School officials had proposed dropping the high school's capacity from 2,030 to 1,550 to make room for more career and technology programs and to funnel more students to Winters Mill High School, which is under construction near Westminster. Based on that plan, in part, state school planners in May granted planning approval and awarded $5 million in construction funding for the long-rejected high school project.

Interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said in an interview yesterday that he plans to talk with state officials next week to determine whether the change in plans will jeopardize the funding for the new high school.

"If there's no possibility" that they'll support the change, Ecker said, "then there might be another change to the plan next Wednesday. But I'm optimistic."

Based on the concerns and comments voiced last night, Ecker could make changes to his proposal before the school board is scheduled to vote on the spending plan Wednesday. The 1 p.m. meeting will be held at the Board of Education building on North Court Street in Westminster.

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