Balto. County starts work on New Town high school

Concerns raised as weeks-old elementary already short on space

September 29, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Across the street from the county's newest school - its three just-delivered portable classrooms a stark reminder of the crowding crisis facing the campus - local dignitaries broke ground yesterday on an even bigger project: Baltimore County's first new high school in more than 20 years.

The $35 million high school, being built for 1,425 students in fast-growing Owings Mills New Town, is scheduled to open in time for the 2003-2004 school year. The two-story structure will include 30 classrooms, a greenhouse, a radio station, a video production center, ball fields and eight science laboratories.

Questions are already being raised about whether the school will be large enough. New Town Elementary School, which opened this month with space for 707 pupils, had 932 enrolled yesterday - hundreds more than officials anticipated.

"What happened in New Town, we don't know yet," said County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "But believe me, we're going to fix it. Don't you think we're going to let this go by. We can't overreact. We have to do it the right way."

He and schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston plan to meet to discuss growth in the area, which is one of the county's designated growth areas, after the school system has final enrollment numbers for the academic year. School board members have asked the two to talk about whether the correct methods are being used to project enrollment.

`Linchpin of a community'

New Town will be the first new high school in Baltimore County since nearby Owings Mills High School opened in 1978.

"It's special because a high school truly is a linchpin of a community," Ruppersberger said. "A high school brings people together. A high school strengthens a community's identity. ...

"That will happen here."

$1 million under budget

The footprint of the building started to take shape at the high school site long before officials did their ceremonial digging yesterday. Two more major contracts - one for mechanical work and one for electrical work - were approved at Tuesday's school board meeting. Despite concerns over the past year that costs were ballooning out of control, Hairston said the school is about $1 million under budget at this stage.

Even though the elementary school is crowded - and there is much talk about adding a new middle school to the mix - Hairston said it is too late to make New Town High School larger than 1,425 seats.

Will it be big enough?

"It's too soon to tell," he said. "We believe for the moment it is adequate, but only time will tell."

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