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The Carroll County Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday evening to build a new East Middle School on the Westminster site of the existing East Middle, about 200 feet north of the current building, capping years of discussion about what to do with the aging facility.

Here are answers to some key questions regarding the East Middle project.

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What will students do during construction?

Upon learning that the new school will be built at the same “site” as the old school, some wondered if that meant students will be sent elsewhere after the old school is torn down and the new one is built.

That won’t be the case. The new building will be on the same campus, but not in the exact same location as the existing building. Thus, the current East Middle would remain open throughout what is expected to be about a two-year construction process of the new building.

The new building is expected to be able to accommodate roughly the same number of students as currently attend, meaning there should be no need to send kids already attending East Middle to a different school.

However, the new bus loop can’t be constructed until the old building is demolished, and playing fields will be unavailable during construction.

A new East Middle School will be built on the existing site of the Westminster school, about 200 feet north of the current building.
A new East Middle School will be built on the existing site of the Westminster school, about 200 feet north of the current building. (Carroll County Public Schools)

Why does anything need to be done?

The Redistricting and School Closure Committee, commissioned by Carroll County Public Schools, came to the conclusion after months of discussion and analysis that East Middle is an “unavoidable driver of all planning concerns." Before considering redistricting or any other school projects, that committee said a decision needed to be made about East Middle, which for years has ranked atop the list of Carroll schools in need of modernization.

Opened in 1936, the building served as Westminster High School for some 35 years and has been East Middle for nearly 50 years. The school system determined that many of the building systems are past their useful life and the school is not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

More than 700 students attend East Middle, and it was recently downgraded to three stars of five — one of only three schools in the county to not receive at least four stars — from the Maryland Public Schools Report Card done by the Maryland State Department of Education.

What were the options?

A feasibility study commissioned by the county school board came up with five options: renovating the current building, building a new middle school on the present campus, building a new middle school on the campus of Friendship Valley Elementary School, or building a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school either at the present campus or at Friendship Valley.

Renovating was deemed too expensive, and it was decided that the efficiencies of a K-8 school would be negligible for a project that would be more than 50% more costly. Plus, school officials believe that type of school would work better in an area that is under capacity, which is not the case in Westminster.

So the decision was made last summer to either build a new school on the current campus or build a new middle school at Friendship Valley.

Why not Friendship Valley?

There were several factors that might’ve played a role in not building a middle school on the Friendship Valley campus, three miles from the current school and outside the city limits of Westminster.

It would have meant significant redistricting, it would have meant losing several athletic fields that are valuable to local recreation councils, and it would have made it more difficult for students who live in Westminster — and, perhaps, walk to East Middle — to take advantage of opportunities in the city, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster.

All of that essentially became moot, however, when it was made clear to CCPS that, because of water restrictions from the city, building on the Friendship Valley site would require a new water allocation from the city — something the Westminster Common Council was unlikely to grant a special exception for. That would’ve likely delayed the move for years, time the aging existing facility might not have had.

What’s next?

It took several months longer to arrive at the decision than was initially expected. According to CCPS estimates outlined Wednesday evening, construction would start sometime in 2022 and the new middle school would have a planned opening at some point in the 2023-24 school year.

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The current building will need to be demolished. It is possible parts of the historic facility will be preserved.

The project is expected to cost about $60 million. Once the East Middle project — the “driver of all planning concerns” — is complete, school officials will be able to consider comprehensive rezoning and perhaps other school projects or closures.

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