Carroll County Public Schools staff addressed some questions about costs and logistics for the planned East Middle School replacement project during a work session.
They discussed the differences between the two possible sites — on the current campus or on the campus of Friendship Valley Elementary School — as well as how Winters Mill High School factored in and, yes, even a question about reopening North Carroll High School. Some of the pertinent questions are below and the full work session can be viewed at carrollk12.org under “Board of Education” and “Meeting videos.”
Note, however, that the Friendship Valley Elementary option appears to be off the table now that the Board of Education learned that water restrictions from Westminster would mean a new water allocation would be required — likely delaying the project by years.
What is the overall cost difference between the two school sites?
When the board was choosing between the two sites, there was a discrepancy of about $4 million between the costs of putting the replacement school at its current site and shared on the same campus as Friendship Valley.
Looking at estimated costs, much of the cost savings at the Friendship Valley site came from the fact that the East Middle site would revert to property of the county. The costs of demolishing the building and rehabilitating the recreation fields wouldn’t be a part of the school system’s budget.
Members of the school board as well as the Carroll Board of County Commissioners asked to get a better look at the total cost for the taxpayer.
Factoring in rough numbers for the demolition, field construction and road improvement costs that the county would incur if they became the owners the East Middle site, two options were estimated at $59,958,175 at Friendship Valley and $59,448,239 at East Middle.
“We always round up,” Director of Facilities Management Ray Prokup warned.
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2 joked that with its current budget, the county was going back to all gravel roads.
What are some other factors that affect the site choice?
One section of the work session outlined some of the factors outside of construction costs with keeping the middle school where it is. That location would possibly avoid the impact to students due to redistricting.
Board of Education President Donna Sivigny said that one common misconception was that the entire East Middle population would move to the Friendship Valley location if the middle school was built there. More likely, most of the area distracted to East Middle would be sent to West Middle. A portion of the current West Middle area would still be sent there, but another section of that population would then attend the Friendship Valley site middle school.
If the replacement stayed on the East Middle site, the school would have the option of retaining its current feeder pattern and transportation footprint. It would remain within walking distance of the Westminster Boys & Girls Club for the approximately 35 students who walk there after school. Other nearby schools provide bus transportation if there is room on the buses.
Sivigny said redistricting associated with moving to Friendship Valley could be a chance to “take hold of this opportunity to think longer term,” about the feeder pattern and transportation footprint," she said.
Board member Tara Battaglia said she would possibly like to see a localized redistricting either way.
Chief Operating Officer for CCPS Jon O’Neal said that there was a work session about redistricting and facility utilization that took place in 2017 for anyone interested in going more in depth. The documents and videos are viewable at carrollk12.org under “Board of Education” and “Redistricting and Facility Utilization."
Is there a construction time difference between the two project sites?
Site construction would take approximately 24 months at each site.
Does the Board of County Commissioners have any plans for the East Middle School site if the new school is built at Friendship Valley and the existing building is transferred to the county?
The Commissioners have had no discussion about what they would do with the site.
Everything is individual options and hypotheticals, Weaver said.
The estimate for the cost of demolishing the East Middle building was set at $1.8 million by the project’s feasibility study
If the county chose to establish playing fields at that site to replace those affected at Friendship Valley, the architect’s estimate is $562,500, plus an additional $187,500 if irrigated
What effect could the loss of playing fields at Friendship Valley have on Recreation and Parks?
Director of Recreation and Parks Jeff Degitz presented findings from his department based on the feasibility study.
Up to three fields could be impacted, and each field serves about 7,100 children per year through multiple sports. A child might be counted twice in that number if they make use of a field for more than one sport during the year.
In addition, an annual lacrosse tournament on the site brings about 230 teams from outside the county together.
Are there economic impacts from having a middle school at either site?
Economic analysis was not part of the planning process.
During a public hearing elected officials from the city of Westminster said that building on the Friendship Valley site outside city limits would have an adverse economic impact on Westminster. During the work session, Sivigny said she wanted to contact them and ask for more specifics.
Please explain why the option of re-opening NCHS and/or converting WMHS to a middle school was not considered.
The school system does not own NCHS and would have to undergo the process of re-obtaining the property. The site would need code evaluations and safety improvements. The extent of these is unknown and more study would be needed to determine that.
Two known costs are roof and HVAC replacements, which would total about $28 million. Another cost would be furniture and equipment.
Converting Winters Mill from a high school to a middle school would also require significant costs because some of the building’s features — including the stadium, auditorium and track — are not practical for a middle school. The high school autism program which is housed there because the school is at a central location that is efficient for transportation would have to move to another site.
Lockard also said he would not advocate for a middle school of that large a capacity, at about 2,000 students.
Additional costs would arise from the need for significant high school redistricting.
In the evaluation by the Redistricting and School Closure Committee, closing Winters Mill was considered, but that did not place among the committee’s top recommendations. High school utilization countywide would be 98% if the school were taken offline.
“I think there’s still discussion in the public where people do say ‘We still have this option. Why don’t we do this? It saves money?’ And it’s important to me that the public understands that no, this is no savings to do," Battaglia said. "You are impacting students, transportation obviously. The school was not grandfathered in ... so everything would have to be brought up to code.”
“Winters Mill is also not the middle school model that we follow. So there would have to be significant changes done. ... I will flat out say, I asked this question because there is this constant conversation in the public: Why can’t this be done? It needs to be said. It needs to be shown. ... I think that conversation needed to happen."