Expandable high school is suggested

North Carroll crowding prompts talk of options

Carroll County

April 02, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

In dealing with soaring enrollment that threatens to overwhelm North Carroll High School, county school officials will consider building an 800-student high school that could easily be expanded if the student population continues to increase.

The idea was suggested yesterday by Carroll County Commissioner Dean L. Minnich -- "I'm just blue-skying here," he said of the suggestion that would still require tens of millions of dollars that the county is unlikely to have -- during a meeting between commissioners and school officials.

This year, about 1,600 students attend the Hampstead 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.

That crowding is expected to worsen as residential development continues in the Westminster, Manchester and Hampstead neighborhoods that the school serves. By the 2007 school year, 1,860 to 2,050 students are projected to attend North Carroll.

Although the Carroll school system typically builds high schools for 1,200 students, constructing a smaller building might have its benefits in this case.

School officials agree that there are too many students at North Carroll, but remain uncertain whether there are enough to justify the construction of a new school to state school planners, who approve such projects, and to Maryland's elected officials, who allocate funding for them.

That's because a school system must prove that neighboring schools in a crowded area have enough surplus students to fill half the seats in a new school now and to match the school's enrollment capacity within seven years of its approval.

Without such justification, the state will not approve or allocate maximum funding for the construction project -- an expensive loss that could run as high as 60 percent of the school's construction costs.

"It would mean a better chance of qualifying for state aid," schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said of building an 800-student high school to relieve North Carroll's crowding.

The school is projected to be between 350 and 400 students over capacity this fall and to have between 620 and 815 more students than it has room for in 2013.

A safer solution

Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said that building a smaller but expandable school might be a relatively safer solution.

"I just think we have to move with some caution because we don't know for sure about these numbers," she said of student enrollment projections, which are calculated using a complicated formula to predict how many children will enroll each fall at each school in the county.

Similar projects

The concept of building a smaller school with the ability to expand is not a new one.

When the school system built Century High School in Eldersburg in 2001, it was constructed with enough classroom space for 1,200 students but with a 1,600-student capacity for its gymnasium, cafeteria, auditorium and other core facilities.

Parr's Ridge Elementary, scheduled to open in Mount Airy in August 2005, is being built for 650 pupils but with core facilities that would accommodate about 750 children, according to Ray Prokop, the school system's facilities director.

"It's actually a reasonable approach to a tough question," he said in an interview after yesterday's meeting. "You reduce the first-time costs by only building it for the capacity you can justify with the option of expanding certain core areas to accept future expansion as a precaution."

He warned, however, that the new high school's price tag would not decrease proportionately. While a 1,200-seat building would cost $40 million, an 800-seat school would not cost two-thirds that amount.

The commissioners also weighed in on other options under consideration for relieving North Carroll High's crowding, which include constructing an addition and redistricting students to other schools.

Of a proposal to schedule classes in two shifts a day, Minnich said there would be "an armed revolt in the provinces."

Similarly, he said, running year-round school in shifts could leave families unable to vacation together because their children attend classes at different times of the year.

Ecker expects to make a recommendation in June to school board members, who are scheduled to vote on the matter in September.

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