No specifics on an East Middle School project were included in the master plan that the Board of Education passed Wednesday — but board members hope to remedy that over the summer to prevent the project from languishing.
Board President Donna Sivigny made a motion to submit the Educational Facilities Master Plan as is, with the expectation that they will hold a work session over the summer “to address the options and the way forward for an East Middle project and what all that that might entail.”
The motion passed unanimously. The work session has been set for July 10, the date of the board’s regular monthly meeting.
Over the course of Wednesday’s meeting, the board members determined that they had not reached a consensus and still had questions before they could choose between the five options in plan for the East Middle project.
Once they have selected one, they plan to amend the most recent EFMP to reflect it. The EFMP is a plan for construction and facilities projects that looks ahead 10 years in advance and is approved by the board every year.
The board must submit it to the Maryland Department of Planning by July, but Sivigny said the board has been advised that amending and then resubmitting it should not be prohibitively difficult.
With the EFMP approved, CCPS staff will begin drafting Capital Improvement Program requests. In an interview later, Sivigny said they hope to amend the EFMP and have a much more specific idea of where the East Middle project will go by the time they submit the CIP requests in October.
Through a feasibility study completed this year, an architecture firm provided more data on five different options for the school.
These included renovating the historic East Middle building, replacing it with a new building on the same site, or adding a building to the campus of Friendship Valley Elementary School. The board will also consider whether to go forward with a middle school or a kindergarten through eighth grade campus at either of those locations.
A crowd filled the back parking lot of the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster Wednesday afternoon, while Executive Director Bonnae Meshulam, and assortment of dignitaries and flock of children wearing orange and yellow hard hats stood before a trough in the asphalt, shovels at the ready.
Another significant recommendation from the EFMP was to put together a committee to review redistricting options surrounding Freedom Elementary School. The Sykesville school is currently over capacity and is projected to become even higher, Sivigny said.
“But there are a lot of neighboring schools that have lower utilization. And so we're going to put together a committee to review that situation and see what is the best way to handle it because you don't want that much imbalance,” she said.
Westminster Mayor Joe Dominick spoke in favor of rebuilding on the same site, located in downtown Westminster. In addition, he predicted that if the school system built on the Friendship Valley site and left East Middle vacant, the large empty building would become a burden on law enforcement.
Erin Bishop, marketing director of the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster, echoed the organization’s previous call to keep the school on the same site, in walking distance of the club’s location.
Beth Tevis, a board member for the club, also spoke in favor of that option.
“And a significant reason that we receive these block grants had to do with our proximity to East Middle School,” she said, referring to two community block grants, for a total of $750,000, that the club successfully applied for and received.
When East Middle students can walk to the organization, their membership doesn’t have to be limited by bus seats.
“We have found that a significant number of students who join the club in middle school continue to attend through high school, and then often return as member mentors. And so we are very focused on the committee unity that has been built since 2006,” she said.
Aimee Schultz, PTO president for East Middle School, returned to speak again after the public hearing for the EFMP. She again asked the board to include the replacement of the school in the plan.
The PTO put together a chart of more data that they felt was pertinent to choosing between the five options, beyond the considerations that the architecture firm evaluated. This included questions about redistricting, impacts on feeder schools and impacts on students during construction.
She said that the renovation option should not be considered because the systems in the school were too old to maintain despite a valiant effort by those who care for the facility.
“It’s a ticking time bomb,” she said. “There could be something that happens at any time, and what are we going to do with 750 kids? There’s nowhere else to put them.”
John Neubert, who spoke previously as president of the Westminster Area Recreation Council (WARC), spoke as the vice president for the Westminster Soccer Association, a subsection of WARC. Friendship Valley Elementary is their primary field space, and he asked the board to not choose an option that would build there and reduce or eliminate the playing fields for nearly 1,000 players.
David Downs, Westminster Baseball Association Board president, spoke on the benefit of those playing fields to his organization as well.
“With the loss of those four fields, I don't know what we would do. There are really no other fields for us to go with those kids. So we would basically have to cut our program by 70 to 75 percent.”
Another resident spoke, saying he had seen five of his children go through East Middle, all with great experiences. He advocated for renovating on the same site.
“I believe that we need to jump into this both feet and rebuild a new structure there. … Some people will say buildings don't teach kids. That is true,” he said. “But a very nice structure, a structure that is state of the art, will inspire kids to do better.”