Plea for new school is heard

Official argues enrollment hasn't slowed as predicted

Northeastern county at issue

October 02, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Instead of building three elementary school additions in crowded northeastern Howard County - including one on a still unfinished new school - Howard County should put up another complete building, an exasperated county councilman told the school board yesterday.

Listening to David C. Drown, the county school system's enrollment specialist, predict a slower pace of growth, Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon objected at the regular quarterly meeting between the County Council and the school board.

"I have trouble with that. We've been saying that for four years - for eight years," Merdon said of the predictions. Merdon pointed out that Bellows Spring Elementary School, which is under construction, has an addition planned for it.

The northeast region's grade schools are among the county's most crowded, with hundreds of homes being built. Drown's predictions were countywide, but Merdon argued that regional conditions often differ.

Drown acknowledged that although predictions now call for a slower increase in elementary enrollments, schools in the northeast, the north and the western county - where a school is to open in 2006 - "are growing rapidly."

A reduction in class sizes to 19 pupils per teacher in grades one and two eliminated 2,000 seats, however, and state requirements for all-day kindergartens by 2007 will require 80 more classrooms, officials said. Redistricting is under way to fill as many empty existing seats as possible.

Jane B. Schuchardt, school board chairwoman, noted that predictions were once for a peak in elementary enrollments by next year, and Drown agreed, noting that 2005 was the prediction two years ago, and now it is 2008.

With three additions at Bellows Spring, Northfield and Ilchester scheduled to add 400 seats at a combined cost of $8.5 million, Merdon said, why not build a school for 550 students for not much more money?

"By the time these additions are built," Merdon said, all-day kindergarten will force the county to provide dozens of new classrooms.

The county could be ahead of the game instead of behind, he said, adding, "I've got a great location for you, too." He refused to say where he meant.

Finding land on which to build Bellow Springs was a major problem for the county, which considered several possible sites before settling on county-owned land near Waterloo Elementary. But that location made it harder to relieve crowding at Worthington, which is farther north.

Drown said the long-range capital budget contains plans for a new northern elementary school to open on an as-yet unchosen site by 2008.

Deputy Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said Merdon's suggestion "is something we will look at, yes."

Superintendent John R. O'Rourke said he has asked for a comprehensive review of all county facilities to plan for the future instead of reacting to sudden crises.

"Everything's on the table," he said, after west Columbia Democrat Mary C. Lorsung asked about the future of the former Faulkner Ridge Elementary building in Columbia, which is used for staff development training.

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