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Carroll school board narrows East Middle options to building replacement project

Carroll school board narrows East Middle options to building replacement project
The Carroll County Board of Education met in a work session on Wednesday, July 10 to discuss options for aging East Middle School. (Catalina Righter / Carroll County Times)

The Carroll County Board of Education narrowed its options for East Middle School to two choices at a Wednesday work session.

Both involve construction of a brand-new school building, either at the existing site or at the same campus of Friendship Valley Elementary School. The Board decided against other options that would have meant renovating the historic East Middle School building or constructing a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school on either site.

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The board will not have to decide between the two sites for the school for another several months. The decision Wednesday will allow Carroll County Public Schools staff to inform the state about the project and Superintendent Steve Lockard is expected call for the formation of a Construction Planning Committee at the August Board of Education meeting.

With the formation of the committee and bringing on an architect, the board will have more granular ideas of the cost as they choose between the two sites for the new construction.

Construction would begin in the summer of 2021 and the new middle school would open at the start of the 2023-24 school year on an ideal timeline.

Before the work session, members of the board submitted questions to CCPS staff and the architecture firm that completed the feasibility study for East Middle School. Staff also put together a series of slides considering “other factors” like redistricting and transportation that went beyond the architectural and engineering aspects contained in the feasibility study. They put together some computer models for this information after they were asked to by community members during public comment, said Chief Operating Officer John O’Neal.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3 said the Board of County Commissioners would support the school board in its decision at the next joint meeting between the two boards, scheduled for August.

“That is very good news. We have a path forward,” Board President Donna Sivigny said after the Board voted unanimously to modify their Educational Facilities Master Plan.

Which site?

The school board discussed preferences between the two sites, but did not reach a unified conclusion Wednesday.

The cost of the two sites differs significantly in the estimates provided by the feasibility study. Putting the new middle school on the same site came with a tentative price tag of $59,958,175, while the project on the Friendship Valley site was estimated at $55,992,239.

Part of the cost difference comes from the costs to demolish the old building and fix the recreation facilities. The estimated cost of the demolition alone is $1.8 million, O’Neal said.

These costs won‘t be part of the project if the new middle school is built at Friendship Valley because the school system would turn the East Middle School site over to the county.

Frazier said this option may seem like cost saving, but would likely just transfer those costs over to the county government, which funds the school system.

Lockard reminded the board that the project costs in the feasibility study are just estimates and may change.

Board member Patricia Dorsey expressed a definite desire to build the new school on the site of the existing East Middle School. She said that this option would remove the need for redistricting and that a new middle school building on that site similar to Mount Airy Middle School would be an asset to the community. She echoed rec council sentiments that building on the Friendship Valley site would be disruptive to the fields there that are used by the community.

Board Member Marsha Herbert said she was torn between the merits of the two options.

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For East Middle School, "That’s what schools are all about, and I hate tearing that area up...I lived through that North Carroll [High School] thing and it is a heartbreaker. But then when I looked at the numbers, I was torn.”

Sivigny said she hoped the BOE could remain sensitive to the requests of the community and recreation programs while taking the opportunity to look at the bigger picture. She wondered whether they might collaborate with the City of Westminster to create a recreation site on the East Middle grounds if the new middle school was constructed at Friendship Valley.

The Board is scheduling further work sessions to comb through the pros and cons of both sites.

Why not K-8?

One reason for a school system to build a k-8 campus would be the efficiency of having middle and elementary share resources. But in this case, the efficiencies of the k-8 would be negligible, said Chief of Schools Cynthia A. McCabe.

The number of students that would be districted to the East Middle replacement mean the project will have square footage requirements for the building. The middle schoolers and elementary schoolers would still need separate cafeterias, gymnasiums and other resources even within a k-8 campus.

This option would work better in an area where the middle and elementary school were both under capacity with students, Sivigny said. That is not the case in Westminster.

The board and CCPS staff discussed the question of how immediately William Winchester Elementary was in need of modernization. The school is next after East Middle in the list of CCPS school buildings that need modernization.

Director of Facilities Management Ray Prokop said that that systemic improvements over the years to the roof, AC and parking lot mean that William Winchester is not in as dire need of modernization as East Middle.

In early estimates that CCPS staff shared, renovating the existing William Winchester building would be cheaper than building a new elementary school.

Modernization of WIlliam Winchester, in whatever form that takes, is still in the long-term plan for CCPS that lays out the next 10 years for their facilities.

The next Board of Education meeting is set for 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14.

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