Public united that something needs to be done about East Middle, divided about what to do

Though their opinions differed, the common refrain from participants at a recent public hearing before the Carroll County Board of Education was this: get something started regarding East Middle School.

On Thursday, May 24, the BOE heard from citizens during a public hearing for the Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP). The hearing came about a week after the Board heard the results of a feasibility study for East Middle School that explored five options for the aging school, two of which would involve relocating the middle school to the Friendship Valley Elementary School campus, which is outside of Westminster’s city limits.


Many of the building systems are past useful life and the school is not accessible according American Disabilities Act.

The first speaker was Westminster Common Council member Tony Chiavacci, who along with Mayor Joe Dominick, urged the Board to go with the plan to construct a new building on the location of the existing East Middle School.

The Board of Education will look for public comment on future facilities changes at a public hearing May 23.

Westminster is the largest and most diverse city in the county he said, and East Middle School serves the largest population of students with special needs, English Learners and minority students. It is important to keep the school where it is within easy access, often by walking, to services in the city such as the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster, the Family Fitness Center, Westminster Skate Park and others.

“It comes down to making the right decision for the kids,” Chiavacci said. “But I think where they are inside the city is critical.”

John Neubert, president of the Westminster Area Recreation Council (WARC), said that building on the Friendship Valley site would be detrimental to the playing fields during and after construction. This would affect thousands of people who participate in recreation activities.

Westminster Soccer alone has 1,000 players, which means about 3,000 people are at Friendship Valley using the fields from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, he said.


“Friendship Valley Elementary School is the centerpiece field venue in the Westminster area, and supports not only the students in the school, but the students and parents of the entire Westminster area,” he said.

Bonnae Meshulam, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club, said that one of the reasons they underwent their $5.5 million campaign to move the facility to Main Street Westminster was to be close to East Middle, which has one of the largest populations of at-risk children. Right now, 50 children walk from East Middle to the Boys & Girls Club.

Their program for teens is growing and is now the largest of any Boys & Girls Club in Maryland, she said. When construction is finished on their gymnasium, they will be able to host 600 people at a time.

“What better way for teens to spend, keep them out of the weeds, under adult supervision, having an incredibly good time for $30 a year?” she said. They want East Middle school to stay where it is so its students can continue to be a part of Boys & Girls Club programs.

Aimee Schultz, president of the PTO at East Middle urged the Board to make a decision soon and to rebuild on the existing site in order to avoid redistricting that would ripple out across many schools in the county.

“We can't wait any longer to continue just dragging our feet with trying to make a decision. The building needs to be replaced,” she said.

Later after the meeting, she said, “I strongly encourage the Board and the public to consider more than just the cost of construction for each option in the feasibility study. Other costs not listed include both financial and emotional costs.”

These would include redistricting, transportation and traffic, and the loss to the Westminster community of business from East Middle School staff.

The PTO plans to host an information meeting from parents from the feeder schools to keep them informed and discuss the options. Their next regular meeting is Monday, June 3 at 7 p.m. in the East Middle School Media Center.

Keey Crume, a parent of a current East Middle student and two students in feeder elementary schools, said it was “not a warm and fuzzy feeling” to look at the feasibility study and see all of the things wrong with the building her child was attending and asked them to move forward with a project soon so students don’t lose opportunities or move away to private schools.

Don Warner graduated from high school in the building when it still housed Westminster High. He said that the Arc Deco building has a rich history and was built as part of the NRA (National Recovery Administration) program and the New Deal during the Great Depression.

“What happens when the bulldozers approach the Art Deco?… I ask that history be preserved.” he said. Many alumni of the school and those interested in local history want to preserve the facade, he said, and want to call on the Maryland Historical Trust.

Rosemary Kitzinger was a part of the Redistricting and School Closure Committee that recommended to the Board to undergo the feasibility study as well as a Carroll parent. She identified herself as a passionate advocate for special education and for that reason, asked the Board to go with Option E of the plan, which included building a new K-8 school on the Friendship Valley site. As part of the RSCC, she said they toured many programs to ask about their biggest needs.

“Hands down, it’s space.” she said. “It is space for the growing population that is often overlooked that is our special needs students.”

The Carroll County school board moved forward on two key items Wednesday night, voting unanimously to move a schematic design for the Career and Technology Center and to move forward with a feasibility study in relation to the Redistricting and School Closure Committee's report.

Board of Education president Donna Sivigny said the Board had received 15-20 emails in addition to the those who spoke in person.

Comments can be sent to the Board online by visiting feedback.carrollk12.org or by mail to the Superintendent’s Office, Carroll County Public Schools, 125 North Court Street, Westminster, MD 21157.

Video of the presentation of the feasibility study is available at www.carrollk12.org/videos. The documents used in the presentation are also available at www.carrollk12.org/admin/facilities/planning/Documents.Physical copies can be obtained by calling or emailing the Board of Education Offices.

The next meeting of the Board of Education is scheduled for June 12 at 5 p.m.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun