Replacement for the aging East Middle School building in Westminster will go forward on the school’s current site.
The Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the nearly $60 million project at its meeting Wednesday evening after months spent considering professional studies and input from the community regarding various plans.
The board narrowed the possibilities to two over the summer — the other being adding a middle school building to the current campus of Friendship Valley Elementary School, about three miles away.
There was some cost discrepancy between the two proposed sites. Moving forward at the current site, the school system will see costs for demolishing the historic East Middle School building.
Had the Friendship Valley site been chosen, the current East Middle School property would have likely passed to the ownership of county. The school system would have avoided directly paying the demolition cost, but it would have likely passed to the Board of Commissioners, which funds the school system.
The next step in the project will be school staff beginning work with the Maryland Historic Trust in regards to the building, which was built in 1936. Though historic, a feasibility study found that the building would cost significantly more money to repair than to replace.
Among the reasons in favor of keeping the school at the current site were its proximity to the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster and the preservation of the existing school community in the area. Those involved in local recreation sports feared that building on the Friendship Valley site would mean reducing or losing the playing fields that serve thousands of kids each year.
In September, the board learned of another factor that ultimately sealed the deal. If the middle school was constructed on the Friendship Valley site, the project would need to request water and sewer allocation. By building on the current site, the project will be able to use the water and sewer allocation that already exists for the property.
Because of scarcity of resources in the city, water and sewer allocations are subject to a complex process. Because the Friendship Valley project would have required new net allocations and because it is located outside the city limits, it would be several years before that allocation would become available.
Board of Education President Donna Sivingy met again with Mayor Joe Dominick again to talk about the water situation in Westminster, after Board of Education members expressed frustration that the decision was being taken out of their hands.
Sivigny said Dominick was eloquent about the situation, and they discussed that there were probably some alternate solutions available. But these would still likely delay the project by four to five years.
“At that point it becomes almost moot,” she said. “We need a solution quicker than that."
Though the board voted to go forward with one site, she hoped to still see the considerations of districts, special education programs, feeder patterns and other factors that came to the surface as the community discussed the pros and cons of each site.