Board to study school space

Crowding at high school to be analyzed for a year

Public input to be sought

Options include 2 shifts per day, year-round classes

Hampstead

December 11, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Saying they had not dealt with a school crowding problem as "complicated" as the one developing at North Carroll High, the Carroll County school board agreed last night to take a year to study the options and solicit community input before deciding what to do.

In addition to a 600-student addition recommended by a committee studying the Hampstead school's steadily increasing enrollment, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker told board members last night that school officials will also consider running two shifts of classes a day or scheduling year-round classes at North Carroll, or perhaps all seven county high schools. They also will consider building a new high school, Ecker said.

"There are options out there that we should be and will be considering," he said. "The options on the table are far from a done deal. We will be getting input from the community."

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, an article in yesterday's Carroll County edition of The Sun incorrectly paraphrased county school board member Susan G. Holt's comments on a committee's recommendation to expand North Carroll High School to relieve crowding. Holt said she does not agree that smaller schools are inherently better and would not oppose the expansion on those grounds alone. The Sun regrets the error.

Allowing a year for such a debate, any school construction or additions would not be completed before 2008, meaning North Carroll probably would use portable classrooms to handle additional crowding.

Building a 600-student addition at North Carroll would expand the 27-year-old school's capacity from 1,360 students to 1,960 and make it the county's largest school building. Such an expansion would also push the school's population well beyond the county's goal of limiting high schools to 1,200 students.

A school system committee has been meeting for several months to consider options for relieving crowding at North Carroll. This year, about 1,615 students attend classes in the building, 255 over capacity.

Enrollment is expected to continue to swell through at least the 2007-2008 school year, when nearly 1,860 students are expected to enroll at North Carroll. Projections call for the school's enrollment to hover between 1,850 and 1,870 for five years before leaping to 1,950 in 2012 and 1,960 in 2013.

A burst of unanticipated growth in the Westminster area is a further complication, said Jim Doolan, the school system's transportation director and chairman of the committee studying the crowding.

"This was a tough one," Doolan told the board. "Historically and normally, we'd recommend you move [North Carroll] students to the Westminster area. ... But when you look at the numbers, that's not where it fell."

Instead, he said, his committee thought it best to absorb the influx of North Carroll students at North Carroll by expanding the school's capacity. Among the options discussed, Doolan said, were additions that would enlarge certain areas of the school or a self-contained wing, perhaps for the freshman class, that could be built as an addition to the school or as a separate building on North Carroll's campus.

Board member Laura K. Rhodes spoke favorably of her experience in a split-schedule high school where 11th- and 12th-graders attended school from 7 a.m. to noon, and ninth- and 10th-graders had classes from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Acknowledging that she did not know how administrators managed the scheduling from a staffing standpoint, Rhodes said, "It was great for the kids." Underclassmen, she said, "got to sleep in," while upperclassmen "got to go to school, go to work and come back for sports and activities."

Board member Susan G. Holt cautioned residents against getting into a regional fight such as the one that punctuated public debates leading up to the construction of the county's two newest high schools.

As planning began for Century High in Eldersburg and Winters Mill High just outside Westminster, parent groups argued about which area's needs were more pressing and which community deserved a school.

"It's kind of like the old deja vu all over again. We're hearing about pitting one area against another, and I'm not going there," Holt said. "I'm not going into this north, south, east, west, whatever. We need to solve the problem."

Holt also said she will not buy the argument that the school system should not build an addition at North Carroll High. Smaller schools are better, she said.

"I think we need to be fair and show the community dollars," she said, referring to the more than $30 million it would cost to build a high school.

"We can't just stay with this warm, fuzzy, keep-it-small [concept]," she said. "We have to be realistic."

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