County commissioners argued against the idea of the Carroll County Public Schools moving its central office to a location in Westminster rather than North Carroll, with Stephen Wantz going as far as calling the Board of Education's plan "ridiculous," less than 24 hours after the school board voted to move forward with a feasibility study to examine the possibility of relocating to the Friendship Valley Elementary School campus.
The Board of County Commissioners discussed the proposed plan at its Thursday meeting, even bringing Superintendent Stephen Guthrie, who was in attendance, up to speak.
Commissioners who have been moving forward with plans to relocate the central office from the Winchester building in Westminster to the former North Carroll High School building in Hampstead, were, for the most part, in strong opposition of the plan, questioning its cost, the use of taxpayer dollars and voicing other concerns.
While the meeting grew tense and adversarial at times, the group ultimately agreed to have both boards sit down sometime in September to talk, something Board of Education members have been asking for since the commissioners presented plans in March to relocate CCPS central office and a portion of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office to the former North Carroll building.
The move is necessitated by the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office needing to vacate its current space in the Court Annex building, a move that has long been delayed, into the nearby Winchester building, located at 125 N. Court St. next to the Circuit Courthouse, that is currently occupied by the school system.
Last month, commissioners — through a letter sent by County Administrator Roberta Windham on their behalf — refused to meet with the school board because of a previous letter sent by the BOE to commissioners that hinted at potential legal action.
The BOE letter, dated June 21, outlined the school board's reasons for opposing a move to North Carroll, in Hampstead, and concluded that education officials hoped the two boards could "resolve this issue without confrontation or the need for a costly legal battle."
At Wednesday night's Board of Education meeting, Guthrie presented an idea for a new central office facility on the grounds of Friendship Valley Elementary. The plan called for using the $4 million commissioners had set aside for the central office to move to the former North Carroll High. CCPS also has access to the school system's fund balance if need be, he said.
A new facility on the Friendship Valley property would be affordable, centrally located and would be a location the school system already owns, Guthrie said. The land next to the elementary school was originally bought for the site of a future middle school, and later was discussed as a location for a new Career and Technology Center, though neither of those ideas materialized.
The site is also already set up for utilities because of previous plans to build there, Guthrie said.
"I don't know how you tell parents, 'We closed your kids' school and we're building ourselves a new building,'" said Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5.
Guthrie said the plan would not have impact on operational funds for schools, but commissioners still were not in support.
Wantz, R-District 1, reiterated a point he's made multiple times when conversations about closed schools have come up — if there are unused buildings, he isn't going to support the building of a new facility.
Wantz also said he didn't understand what the big deal is about moving CCPS central office 15 to 20 minutes up the road.
Guthrie said he thought moving to the Friendship Valley campus could be a better solution than the move to the former North Carroll High, adding that it would be a new facility that didn't need work, whereas the former Hampstead school building will need a new HVAC system and a new roof in coming years.
But, Howard said, the county owns the building either way and will have to do work on it no matter if the central office is moved there or not.
"It has to be taken care of anyway," added Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3.
Commissioner President Richard Weaver, R-District 2, echoed his colleagues' concerns, adding that he is reluctant for money to go toward a new facility when there are current facilities that need to be filled.
"New buildings are out of the question for us right now," Weaver said.
Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, who has many times spoken in favor of trying to sell or lease the former North Carroll High School, said the only way for the school system to build a new central office would be if the county either sells or leases the former school.
"We can't keep North Carroll and build another building. We have to do one or the other," Rothschild said.