The possibility of putting a replacement for East Middle School on the campus of Friendship Valley elementary has been reduced drastically to near zero after the Board of Education learned that construction there would have to be delayed several years due to restrictions on water from the city of Westminster.
The possibility of putting a replacement for East Middle School on the campus of Friendship Valley elementary has been reduced drastically to near zero after the Board of Education learned that construction there would have to be delayed several years due to restrictions on water from the city of Westminster. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO/Carroll County Times)

The possibility of putting a replacement for East Middle School on the campus of Friendship Valley Elementary School has been reduced to near-zero after the Board of Education learned construction there would have to be delayed several years.

The board was looking at either replacing the school on its current site inside Westminster city limits or adding a middle school building to the same site as Friendship Valley Elementary.

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After discussion between facilities staff from Carroll County Public Schools and Westminster city staff, it became clear that because of water restrictions from the city, building on the Friendship Valley site would require a new water allocation from the city.

The city’s policies around water allocation are complex because of the scarcity of water resources, said Mayor Joe Dominick, who attended the work session Wednesday. Under these restrictions, it would be years until a project on the Friendship Valley site could get water allocated.

When reached after the work session, Westminster Councilman Tony Chiavacci agreed that the Common Council would not be inclined to vote for a special exception. Considering the scope and number of other other projects that have been affected, he said, constituents would feel unfairly treated.

Water is doled out on a site-by-site basis, not by individual projects. To build the replacement school on the Friendship Valley site, CCPS would have to apply for more water allocation at that location. If the reconstruction took place at the current East Middle site, the existing water allocation would essentially be able to carry over.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the board members resolved to look at the question at their Oct. 16 meeting. They expect to vote on whether to formalize the current site as the site for the reconstruction project.

Going forward, Sivigny said, it is incumbent on the board to try to contain the cost of the project. In numbers CCPS staff presented to the board at the work session, either site’s project would have approached $60 million when estimating the costs to county government as well as those just allocated under the school system.

Board member Kenneth Kiler expressed frustration at the lost time and money spent evaluating the Friendship Valley site.

“We spent years looking at a site that wasn’t even an option,” he said.

Board member Marsha Herbert said this development doesn’t mean that the board wouldn’t have ultimately chosen that site but the revelation was upsetting.

“I don’t understand how someone missed this,” she said.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, who was serving as the commissioners’ ex officio member, said the same thing had happened to big companies with significant resources looking at projects in the area. It’s not uncommon to overlook that item, he said. In many cases, it’s assumed that water allocation will be available.

Sivigny asked whether the city could make an exception to the policy.

“We’re not increasing the demand for water, we’re moving the location ... It feels like a bit of a technicality,” she said.

Dominick said that would have to come before the city’s five-member Common Council for a vote, and he could not speak for all of them, but he said they likely would not vote for that. They have had to reluctantly turn down multiple other beneficial projects because of the scarcity, he said.

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Dominick explained that he did not enjoy the task of declining projects because of water resources.

“We’re at a point of scarcity where we’re telling businesses they can’t move in weekly,” he said.

The policy for Westminster prioritizes city water for building projects inside city limits. Dominick said one reason it is written that way is so that businesses and organizations can’t take their water allocation with them if they move to locations outside city limits but still use city water resources. That would mean the properties they vacate would sit empty downtown until more water resources become available.

For context, Dominick said the water allocation plan only allocates water for one new residential property per year, save properties with emergency well problems.

The city is in the early stages of a water reuse initiative, but it will be several years until that project will be in place and adding to the city’s water resources.

Sivigny later asked whether water allocation would affect the renovation and expansion project at the Carroll County Career and Technology Center, but CCPS staff said it would not because the project is staying on the same site and the modernization on the site will reduce water use.

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