By Sara Toth, email@example.com
2:39 PM EDT, June 14, 2013
Officials with the Howard County Public School System Thursday night recommended closing West Friendship Elementary School, the oldest school in the county.
The recommendation came during the presentation of the annual feasibility study at the Board of Education meeting. The feasibility study is traditionally the kick-off to the redistricting process, which this year affects the county's middle schools.
"There's been chronic under-utilization at that school," said Joel Gallihue, the school system's manager of school planning. "We've talked about making better use of western capacity and we've talked about what's coming in terms of Turf Valley development. It's our recommendation that the process for closing the school needs to begin. It's a process that won't be easy, but it takes time."
A new school could be needed in the Turf Valley area in the near future as development happens there, meaning that school could serve as a replacement for West Friendship, according to the feasibility study.
Making the recommendation through the feasibility study means closing the school, if it happens, is in it's extremely early stages. Board policy mandates a 14-month process for closing the school, and the feasibility study recommends the school close as early as 2014, and as late as 2017. According to the feasibility study, the school system could save $2 million a year by closing the school.
Closing the school will not be part of discussions surrounding middle school redistricting this year, Gallihue said.
West Friendship opened its doors in 1925. While the building has a capacity of about 400 students, currently only 274 are enrolled. School system staff has repeatedly tried to use that capacity through redistricting, but those plans haven't come to fruition.
"We could have solved that problem," said board member Sandra French. "We had the opportunity to move students to West Friendship. I think the main reason you want to target that school is that it's on septic."
According to the feasibility study, the school "operates with a septic system outside the sewer service area and could eventually be subject to more stringent requirements which may require expensive
A study looking at closing West Friendship would have to be conducted, Gallihue said, and another report made to the board.
"This report basically is putting the recommendation out there," Gallihue said. "There has to be follow-up and a full analysis."
Other board members were open to the idea of closing the school.
"We're talking about making decisions and choices," said Ann De Lacy. "It's wasteful to continue with these open seats in the west that will never be filled."
While closing West Friendship is not on the immediate horizon, middle school redistricting is. The school system is opening a new 662-seat middle school in Hanover in August 2014, which will alleviate over-crowding in the northeast region.
Gallihue said staff was aiming to keep redistricting to a minimum this year, which represents the end of a three-year cycle of annual redistricting. After this shift, Gallihue said, redistricting will not have to occur for a few years and the school system should take the time to evaluate its processes.
The board voted to convene an attendance area committee to review the study and help put forth final recommendations in the fall. Preliminary recommendations for middle school redistricting include the moving about 1,180 students among eight schools.
Under the preliminary recommendations: