Private school plans building to replace storefront location

Eldersburg site to add space, capacity for pupils with learning difficulties

February 16, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A private school in Eldersburg for children with learning difficulties is planning a $3.5 million new building that will nearly quadruple its space and double its capacity.

Friendship School, which has met for the past six years in a shopping center, is planning a 20,000-square-foot building on 3.7 acres in the Eldersburg Business Center, on Progress Way near Route 32. The Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission reviewed the concept plan for the school yesterday and made a few suggestions, including sidewalks and a canopy at the building's entrance, but took no action.

"We are ready to go as soon as we get your approval," said Stuart B. Foard, who works in land development for Merritt Properties, owner of the building site.

The school's plan includes 77 parking spaces and room for school buses. About half the pupils arrive in car pools organized by their parents, Foard said.

"The school needs this building to replace the existing facility it has grown out of," said Bruce Waldron, a coordinator with the county's Bureau of Development Review. "It has a good ratio of staff to students with special needs."

The new building will accommodate 100 pupils and a staff of 60. The county has allocated public water and sewer to the site. Last year, the Board of Zoning Appeals approved the property for school use.

Waldron will seek comment on the project from area fire and police officials.

Most of Friendship School's 57 pupils are coping with learning disabilities such as dyslexia and other neurological disorders.

"We are overcrowded and need more space," said Sylvia Durant, development director for the independent, nonprofit school. "We are building to our needs and expectations. There is such a need for children in this community, and that need is growing."

The school, founded in a parent's home and now in a 5,500- square-foot storefront on Georgetown Boulevard near Liberty Road, serves kindergarten through eighth grade. Its administration has no plans to add a high school.

The school draws pupils from Carroll and nearby counties who "require innovative, multisensory teaching methods to overcome their learning deficits," according to the school's Web site. Friendship School could become an instructional model in its field, said Durant.

"We could serve as a lab school and train others in the best practices in this field," she said.

Academic Director Janet Jones said Friendship School will offer instructors and other interested adults classes and practical teaching experiences "so they can learn our approach and so we can guide them in our practices."

The $17,000 annual tuition will increase to $18,500 after the move. The administration is seeking scholarship funding, hoping to cover tuition for at least 10 percent of its students.

The school also has launched a building campaign to raise the $3.5 million needed for construction. It has nearly a third of that cost from a single donor, Leroy M. Merritt, owner of the Eldersburg Business Center.

"Mr. Merritt has been so incredibly supportive of our school," Durant said. "His commitment will help us build."

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