County weighs schools merger

Seeks state aid to consolidate Pershing, W. Meade

December 07, 2007|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

County school officials are seeking state funding to demolish Pershing Hill Elementary School and use the site for a new school that would combine Pershing with West Meade Elementary.

The county school system would save $13 million by consolidating the schools rather than upgrading them separately - the option preferred by committees of parents, community members and school officials. Renovations to the two schools would cost $38.5 million, versus $25 million for a new school, said Alex Szachnowicz, chief facilities officer for the school system. A new merged school would accommodate students from a projected increase in military families expected at Fort Meade.

The new school also would create the cutting-edge, showcase school that the military is seeking to attract more soldiers to the Army post, he said. Fort Meade officials were pleased with the superintendent's recommendation for the new school, according to a statement from Installation Commander Col. Kenneth McCreedy.

"A new modern facility with state-of-the-art designs for enhanced learning environments would not only be an asset to the students, teachers, and system as a whole, but show the continued commitment of the state of Maryland and county to improving the level of education in our region," he said.

The Board of Education unanimously approved Superintendent Kevin Maxwell's recommendation Wednesday to seek state funding for the plan, but the proposal is a long way from being approved.

The public will have its first chance to weigh in on the proposed school merger during budgetary hearings on Jan. 29 and Jan. 31. In addition, any school closure triggers a public hearing process in which the community can be heard, said Bob Mosier, spokesman for the county school system.

Principals at Pershing Hill and West Meade could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Pershing Hill and West Meade elementary schools are two of seven schools on Fort Meade, which are operated by the county. They primarily serve the children of military families. Pershing Hill has 207 students enrolled and room for 297 students. West Meade is slightly over capacity with 375 students in a school meant to serve 368.

At Wednesday's meeting, board member Eugene Peterson, who represents the Fort Meade area, said he was skeptical of the need for a school that would serve 733 students - enough to handle the students of both schools plus room for 150 more.

The military post is expecting up to 360 additional families in the next several years, said Chuck Yocum, specialist in demographic planning for the school system. Fort Meade projects an increased number of soldiers moving into newly-renovated post housing, as well as soldiers transferring as part of the nationwide base realignments.

Board Vice President Enrique Melendez expressed concern about young children getting lost - literally and figuratively - because of the school's size.

Szachnowicz said the size is not unusual. He said it is similar to the size of Frank Hebron-Harman and Seven Oaks Elementary schools. He also said that kindergartners would have an area separate from the rest of the school.

"We're talking about a large organization, but a lot of steps are being taken to make a small environment," he said.

The county school system initiated feasibility studies on both schools in August to explore the possibility of renovating, upgrading or replacing them. Planning committees chose modernization plans for both schools over renovation plans.

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