Meetings to address crowding at N. Carroll High

Ecker will discuss plans with town, county officials


March 30, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Having heard from hundreds of parents, teachers and students who attended two public hearings this month, Carroll County schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker will begin meeting with town and county officials this week to discuss ways to ease soaring student enrollment at Hampstead's North Carroll High School.

This year, about 1,600 students attend the school built for 1,340, forcing administrators to convert offices and storage areas into classrooms, an unused stairwell into a storage closet and a lightly trafficked hallway into an office.

"It's information sharing," Ecker said of his scheduled meetings with municipal and county leaders. "We're going to tell them what our challenges are with the overcrowding, where seats are available, where seats are not available and the options we're looking at, and we hope to get information from them about [housing] developments that might be coming that we don't know about."

The county schools chief recently accelerated the timetable for resolving North Carroll's crowding and now expects to make a recommendation in June to school board members, who are scheduled to vote on the matter in September.

Ecker also said he intends to schedule two more public hearings for this summer, allowing community members to share their thoughts on his recommendation.

Among the options being considered are building a new school, expanding North Carroll's capacity, redistricting students to other high schools and running classes in shifts, either as a split-day or year-round school.

A committee studying student enrollment at North Carroll recommended in December construction of a 600-student addition, expanding the school's capacity to 1,940 and making it the county's largest school building.

The proposal drew mixed reactions from school board members and stiff opposition from most of the parents, students and teachers who weighed in on the proposal at public meetings and through a deluge of e-mail messages to district leaders.

At the suggestion of Hampstead Mayor Haven N. Shoemaker Jr., the Town Council also drafted a letter of opposition to school system leaders.

"Our police already spend a lot of time there, and that will be compounded if they add 600 kids," said Shoemaker, whose son will be a freshman at the school this fall. "The idea of turning North Carroll into a 2,000-seat mega-school is less than ideal."

Winning the support of Hampstead leaders will be essential if school officials decide they want to add capacity to North Carroll. Construction at the 27-year-old school could not proceed without the town's authorization, Hampstead Town Manager Ken Decker said.

"The Board of Education occasionally forgets that the town has to approve any construction changes to any building in the town limits," he said. "Clearly, the mayor and council have not been enthusiastic about an expansion of the high school."

Building an annex or an addition on North Carroll would exacerbate the parking, traffic and speeding problems with which the town already struggles because of the daily influx of high-schoolers, Decker said.

"You have to think that there are more people in the high school in the middle of a school day than in the rest of Hampstead," he said. "Everyone leaves Hampstead to go to work, the students come in, and they change places at the end of the school day."

Noting that Hampstead officials will be heading to Westminster to talk with Ecker and his staff tomorrow morning, Decker said, "We're willing to travel [for the meeting], but I'd venture to say that that's about as many hoops as we're going to be willing to jump through."

Ecker also is scheduled to meet with officials from Manchester, Westminster and the county during the next two weeks.

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