Still, a bigger and better Linwood is especially encouraging for Howard County school officials, who welcome every available option for educating the county's growing number of autistic children without sending them to another county.
"We're excited," said Patricia Daley, executive director of special education and student services for the Howard County Public School System. "I'm so happy for our staff, and most of all for our students. Now we have another option (for placing county students with autism), and it's close by."
Daley said Linwood administrators worked with school officials for the past three years to help design a state-of-the-art facility, visiting school-run facilities such as the Cedar Lane School, a school for special needs students in Fulton, and consulting with school system experts. "I think they have a great vision for our county," she said.
Daley said the school system educates many children with autism in regular classrooms, and also uses "a handful" of nonpublic schools, like Linwood.
Last year, three county students were enrolled at Linwood. This year, six of the school's 20 students are from Howard County.
'She's very happy here'
The father of one new Linwood student from the county said his child is pleased with her new school. Riaz Ahmad said his 16-year-old daughter Zenab started Linwood this fall after the family moved to Clarksville from Anne Arundel County, where she had attended school for years.
"We were skeptical," he said. "These children don't like change. … But surprisingly, she's very happy here. She comes, she giggles, she enjoys it. Every morning, when we drop her off, she's ready to go. … We're very happy."
Moss said designing the new building and adapting its curriculum involved not only public school officials but also neighbors, parents, advocacy groups, autism experts — all of Linwood's stakeholders and more.
"We stepped aside and looked at where our program was and where we needed to be, and made some fairly significant changes," Moss said. Among those changes are a new principal, new instructional facilitator, new teachers and new state certificate that allows the school to offer a general education program for elementary and middle school student that puts them on track to earn a high school diploma.
Of the $7 million cost, which includes the equipment, the county paid $1.9 million and the state $1.7 million.
The new Linwood is still a work in progress. Only 20 students are enrolled while there is space for 70, and the new building itself is not quite finished. Several classrooms are empty or used for storage, and the school is still using the cafeteria in the old building while the new one is being built.
Still, Linwood administrators have high hopes for their new school, located at 3421 Martha Bush Drive.
New Principal Catherine Perini talked of maintaining Linwood's "history of greatness," and Moss of plans to "create a hub of autism services in this region."
Moss added: "This place has generated amazing interest among the school systems, parents, and advocacy groups."