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Conversations commence about what to do with empty school buildings

Discussions about what to do with the empty buildings when three Carroll County public schools close are underway, though, no decisions have been made.

"All these things are in the beginning stages," said Commissioner Steve Wantz, R-District 1. "We have just scratched the surface of what to do with all these buildings."

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A joint committee was formed between the Carroll County Board of Education and county government to determine what to with the buildings that are due to become empty as a result of the Board of Education's decision in December to close Charles Carroll Elementary, New Windsor Middle and North Carroll High at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. The committee had met once as of Thursday, according to Jon O'Neal, assistant superintendent of administration for Carroll County Public Schools.

Although both county and public school officials say no decisions have been made regarding future use of the school buildings, they will be surplussed to the county if they are not used for educational purposes, O'Neal said, and the county will then determine their use.

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"Our goal is surplussing the buildings as quickly as we can," O'Neal said. "All of the $5 million in savings will be realized through the school closures and is predicated upon us not having the buildings in our inventory."

O'Neal said he is unsure of the exact date when the school buildings will be closed, but it could be some time in August or September. Local recreation councils have been notified that the school system can't approve any facility use requests beyond June 15, scheduled as the last day of school for students, because CCPS is unsure it will be in possession of the buildings, O'Neal said.

"There's a good bit to do, but we don't want to start that work until school is closed," O'Neal said. For instance, they will go through furniture, technology and other materials and determine what is worth keeping or using to replace worn items at other schools, he explained.

"There's so many questions," O'Neal said. "At a really higher level, one of the things we're asking the county is if they have any ideas for public use for these buildings."

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Those decisions would dictate when and how the school system would empty the buildings once they close, O'Neal said.

The planned closure of two additional schools yet to be named for the 2017-2018 school year will also be a factor, he said.

Appeals filed to overturn the school board decision to close schools are still unresolved.

Ted Zaleski, county government director of management and budget, said costs will be incurred by the county no matter what they decide to do with the buildings. Various ideas have been discussed in "a conceptual sort of way," including knocking the buildings down, repurposing them in some way, selling them or leasing them, Zaleski said.

"We're far from any decision," he said.

Wantz said repurposing the schools will likely end up costing the county money the commissioners had not previously budgeted.

"There's nothing in the budget, so, I don't want to sound cliche, but we're going to have to think outside of the box on this one," Wantz said.

Other Maryland counties have gone through the process of closing schools.

Garrett County's school board decided to close three schools prior to the 2012-2013 school year — Bloomington School for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, and Dennett Road and Kitzmiller elementary schools.

Bloomington was purchased by a local fire company and then torn down; Kitzmiller was purchased by the town of Kitzmiller and is used for town activities; and Dennett Road was about to be surplussed to the county commissioners before the county realized it owed outstanding debt on the building, when it was kept by the school system and shared with the county for various uses, according to Jim Morris, supervisor of research, evaluation and information for Garrett County Public Schools.

Carroll County still has $28,000 of unpaid debt remaining on New Windsor Middle and $100,000 on Charles Carroll, according to information provided by Zaleski, but does not carry any debt on North Carroll High.

When a school facility closes with bonds that have not been paid off 15 years from the date of state payment, the county is required to pay off remaining debt unless the facility is used for an educational purpose, according to Robert Crocetti, director of fiscal services for the Maryland Public School Construction Program.

The maximum amount owed to the state for outstanding bond debt on the three schools totals approximately $635,000, according to the superintendent's Final School Closure and Boundary Adjustment Recommended Plan, which amounts to about $427,000 for North Carroll High, $91,000 for New Windsor Middle and $115,000 for Charles Carroll.

One of the buildings could serve as a new location for the school system's central offices, currently located near county office buildings in Westminster, officials said. It was noted in the superintendent's Boundary Adjustment Committee's report that New Windsor Middle and North Carroll High could be options for relocating the school system's central offices.

The two schools would suffice because of their size, whereas Charles Carroll would not be an option because it's too small, O'Neal said.

The school system's central offices are located in a county-owned building near the county's court buildings. The county government needs additional space for the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office, which is why the county would have a long-term interest in the school system relocating to a new space, O'Neal said.

Wantz, who represents the northern part of the county, including the area encompassing Charles Carroll, said he is meeting with people behind the scenes doing everything he can to ensure Charles Carroll will be maintained as some sort of community center.

"We're just in the beginning stages of looking at what we can do to maintain the structure for community events," Wantz said.

The commissioners would also like to keep and maintain fields at all three school facilities for recreational use, he said.

410-857-7862

twitter.com/LaurenLoricchio

School closure updates

A report on school closure and boundary adjustment plan implementation will be provided to the Board of Education at its regularly scheduled meeting each month for the rest of the implementation. For the information, go to: https://www.carrollk12.org/boe/Pages/School-Closure-Implementation-Information.aspx.

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