Panel suggests addition for N. Carroll High

Capacity would increase by 600 students, making school largest in county

School board reaction mixed

Group studying crowding sees expanded size as alternative to redistricting


December 09, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

A committee studying crowding at North Carroll High School has recommended that an addition be built on the Hampstead school, expanding its capacity from 1,360 students to 1,960 and making it the county's largest school building.

The proposal drew a mixed reaction from school board members interviewed yesterday, as they disagreed on the effectiveness of such a large high school and the viability of easing crowding through redistricting. The expansion plan will be presented publicly for the first time at a board meeting tomorrow night.

Building a 600-student addition at North Carroll would push the school's population well beyond the county's goal of limiting high schools to 1,200 students. Such an addition also would make the school's capacity higher than that of Westminster High, which grew so crowded several years ago that school officials proposed reducing the building's capacity from 1,920 to 1,600 and converting vacated space into new career and technology classrooms.

The plans for Westminster High were scuttled after student enrollment projections in November showed that county schools were expected to gain nearly 800 high-schoolers in four years. The opening of nearby Winters Mill High School has shrunk Westminster High's student population from nearly 2,500 in 2001 to 50 students over capacity this year.

Given that recent history, even the county's schools chief, who signed off on the committee recommendation to expand North Carroll High, expressed misgivings about the proposal. Still, he said, it might be the best of several less-than-ideal options.

"We're all concerned about the capacity of North Carroll if we do add 600 students," Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said. "The addition brings North Carroll's capacity rather high, but there's some difficulty if you don't build it that high."

The primary alternative, he said, would require shrinking North Carroll's attendance area and busing students living in Hampstead's outskirts or perhaps even in town to Westminster-area high schools.

"You're taking people out of their community to relieve North Carroll, and that's a problem," Ecker said.

The committee, which included staff members from the school system's facilities and transportation departments as well as the principals of area high schools, has been meeting for several months to consider options to relieve crowding at North Carroll High. This year, about 1,615 students attend the 27-year-old school built for 1,360.

"We knew North Carroll was getting large. We know the attendance has outgrown the school," said school board President Susan G. Holt, who said she supports the recommendation to build the addition.

"My concern," she added, "is what do we do in the interim?"

The student population is expected to continue to swell through at least the 2007-08 school year when nearly 1,860 are projected to enroll at North Carroll. Enrollment projections show the school population hovering between 1,850 and 1,870 for five years before leaping to 1,950 in 2012 and 1,960 in 2013.

When enrollments began creeping up several years ago, North Carroll Principal Gary Dunkleberger appointed a working group that he called the Space-makers Committee and asked them to find places in the school that might be used as small classrooms, freeing up full-size rooms for larger classes.

One result of the committee's work was that the school converted a storage room for athletic equipment into a classroom. Administrators also created a schedule that uses almost every classroom for teaching almost every class period, forcing instructors to spend their planning period in a department office or some other common space.

Dunkleberger could not be reached yesterday for comment on the recommendation to build an addition at his school.

School board member C. Scott Stone said he wants to hear from school system staff and community members before making a decision about the addition.

"I don't think there's a best solution here," he said. "Anytime you're talking about redistricting, it's very difficult. What concerns me most about the recommendation is what a 600-student addition would do to the total capacity at North Carroll.

The school board is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. tomorrow at the district's administrative offices on North Court Street in Westminster.

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