Despite pushback from the Board of Education the night before, county commissioners voted Thursday to put money aside in fiscal year 2018 to move the Carroll County Public Schools' Central Office and a portion of the sheriff's office to the former North Carroll High School building in Hampstead.
The Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1, with Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, in opposition, to put $6 million aside in FY18 for the move, and another $6 million in FY19 — that vote passed unanimously — to expand the state's attorney's office and sheriff's office into the Winchester Building in Westminster, current home of CCPS central office. Numbers for the cost of moving the entities came from estimates from the county's Department of Public Works.
"We're going to have to build a new building if we don't utilize North Carroll," Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said before the vote. "I am not going to build a new building … when we've got empty buildings around. It does not make any sense to me."
North Carroll, along with Charles Carroll Elementary and New Windsor Middle schools, were shut down at the end of the 2015-16 school year.
Commissioners Doug Howard, R-District 5, and Richard Weaver, R-District 2, whose district includes the North Carroll school building, presented a concept at the beginning of March that would move the school system's central office, a portion of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, the Department of Recreation and Parks, and a child care business to the North Carroll High building off Md. 482.
Commissioners began discussing the move to North Carroll earlier this week, and the Board of Education pushed back against the plan to move its office at its Wednesday night board meeting.
Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said Wednesday he had "some concerns" over the plan. His main issue, Guthrie said at the meeting, was the fact the building is not centrally located, something many of the BOE members echoed.
Following the school board meeting, Guthrie sent an email to the commissioners sharing concerns brought forth during the BOE's discussion and referring to communication with architectural firm Manns Woodward Studios.
"We understand ... New Windsor Middle was discussed as a possible central office. However, that [option] was discussed based solely on the other school alternatives available. After discussing the options with MWS, we believe that there is a more timely and less expensive option," Guthrie wrote.
"We also understand ... moving our location has been under discussion for some time. However, as each other location was discussed we were provided the opportunity for input and even received a tour of the facility and [learned] about the design plan."
The email outlined a number of concerns the school board has about moving its central office, including not being in a central location, technology services, the cost and timeline, and the concern of North Carroll having multiple uses. It was recommended that the Department of Technology Service continue to be housed in the Winchester building, Guthrie wrote. CCPS developed a "centralized data center," he said, that links the centralized servers that connect out to servers located throughout the county.
"The CCPS Data Center needs to be located somewhere in the central Westminster Ring of the Carroll County Public Network for technical reasons related to Wide Area Network Design (connections to schools/sites from central location) distance to sites, optics, etc. Moving outside of the Westminster Ring would require design and configuration changes to the network as well as the replacement of equipment that is based on physical distances," he wrote.
If the commissioners voted to go forward with the move, Guthrie said in his email, he and the school board asked representatives from the school system be included in the planning of the relocation, something he reiterated Thursday in a phone interview with the Times.
Carroll County Sheriff Jim DeWees said he knows the decisions around North Carroll were hard to make, but ultimately, this plan will work for his department, he said.
"We will take a small portion of the building and be good, quiet neighbors," he added.
The space his department is utilizing in the northern part of the county, which is located by the North Carroll branch of the Carroll County Public Library, is "highly inadequate," he said. DeWees said he's worked with the county to go through the building and pick a spot that works, and will be able to be broken off from the rest of the facility for security purposes.
"This will really help us with expanding our evidence needs," he said. "I think that we'll be a good partner in the building."
While the commissioners eventually voted for the move, Rothschild argued against the plan and said they should have listed the building with CoStar, a real estate company, to see if there was any interest in trying to sell the facility.
But the other commissioners didn't agree.
"Is there really any real possibility of selling it?" Howard said. "I just don't think there's a credible way for that building to be sold."
The facility has gyms, an auditorium, fields and the football stadium, said Dennis Frazier, R-District 3. It's a 50-acre campus, he added.
"I think selling the asset off is a mistake," he said.
In addition to the money for FY18 and FY19 to move the agencies, commissioners also voted unanimously to put aside $500,000 as a placeholder for upgrading the stadium at the North Carroll High facility and putting in an artificial turf field.
Frazier originally asked to set aside $1 million; while talking about trying to get other groups to help raise funds for the field, commissioners eventually settled on $500,000.
A turf field and upgraded stadium is a good investment, he said, because when the grass fields are unusable, CCPS teams currently rent turf fields from surrounding counties. If Carroll has its own, it saves money with renting less field time elsewhere, and it can be used by other organizations for events that bring funds into the county, he said.
"Money can be made [with a turf field]," Frazier added.