New school recommended for county

Central, northeast area high schools will be short 850 seats by '07, study says

November 19, 2003|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

After studying enrollment trends for the past six months, a consultant hired by the Baltimore County school system has concluded that a new high school is needed to ease crowding in Perry Hall, Towson and other growing communities.

The consultant, DeJong & Associates, is scheduled to present a report on the county's high school enrollment at a school board meeting tonight. The report, based on community forums, steering committee meetings and data analysis, says high schools in the northeastern and central part of the county will be 850 seats short by the 2007-2008 school year.

The recommendation for a new school is a victory for parents and community activists who have long been trying to get officials to address crowding at Perry Hall High School, said David Marks, president of the Perry Hall Improvement Association.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions about a proposed high school in northeast Baltimore County misstated the number of funding requests for construction projects the state's Public School Construction Program has received this year.
The agency has received 127 funding requests and recommended approval of 44. It has received 85 planning requests and recommended approval of six.

"We're pretty thrilled," he said, but added that the school system must address crowding in the short term.

School board President James R. Sasiadek said the report will lend credibility should the board decide to make the case for a new school.

According to the report, six high schools - all tight on space - will have serious crowding problems by 2007: Milford Mill, Perry Hall, Kenwood, Towson, Pikesville and Sparrows Point. The objective in building a high school would be to relieve crowding at Perry Hall, Kenwood, Towson and Pikesville.

The school system does not own land in the central-northeastern region suitable for a new high school, so it would need to have the county purchase a site of 40 acres to 60 acres, then apply for construction funding from the county and the state.

The county's school renovation and construction costs have been costly in recent years:

The school system says it needs to build at least two more elementary schools and a middle school on the western side of the county. After renovating its elementary schools, the county is now fixing middle schools. That leaves several high schools in need of repairs. New Town High School was completed this year to relieve crowding at Randallstown and Owings Mills high schools.

Renee Samuels, a spokeswoman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr., said the executive is committed to supporting efforts to relieve crowding, particularly at Perry Hall High, but would not say how much money he is prepared to devote to the issue.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall-Towson Democrat, is a staunch supporter of building a high school, but said the county will need significant state help.

"It's one thing to suggest it," he said. "The only way to make it happen is if the state starts kicking in its fair share," he said.

Securing state funding for school construction projects is especially difficult in the current economic climate, said David Lever, executive director of Maryland's school construction program.

Lever said his agency has received funding requests for 85 school construction projects this year - and has recommended that the Board of Public Works approve only six of them. One of the six is Baltimore County's Woodholme Elementary School. Under a complex funding formula, the state would pay $5.5 million of the $14.2 Woodholme project.

Marks said the county needs to make a commitment to raising money for a new high school. He suggested that the county impose impact fees on development and sell unused property.

If the county cannot build a new high school, alternatives in the report include: adding portable classrooms; building an addition to Kenwood High; adding to or building new alternative schools; and adopting a year-round school calendar so a quarter to a third of students would not be in school at any given time.

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