Carroll County is finally getting a site that includes turf fields.
The Board of Carroll County Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to accept a contract to sell the former North Carroll High School facility to Chesapeake Real Estate Group LLC, which plans to turn the property into a multipurpose sports complex featuring artificial playing surfaces for community use.
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said during the meeting the move “will be a boost for Carroll County” in providing a space for recreational and high school athletics to utilize in the future.
The Carroll County Sheriff’s Office space, approximately 5,000 square feet, will remain on location as part of the agreement.
“This is another big vote, another part of history here in Carroll,” said board President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, just before the group made its ruling.
North Carroll High closed its doors in 2016 amid a systemwide declining enrollment period, along with Charles Carroll Elementary and New Windsor Middle, and the property has been for sale since then. Jack Lyburn, the county’s economic development director, said the county has spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” maintaining the facility. The former high school’s gymnasium and athletic fields are still used by local recreation councils, he said.
The county has been negotiating with Chesapeake Real Estate Group for the last nine months, Lyburn said, to come up with a plan on how to best utilize the property.
Matthew Laraway, executive vice president at Chesapeake Real Estate Group, moved to the Hampstead area about four years ago. Laraway said it didn’t take long for him to grasp the connection between the former high school and its community ― one that’s about to get a handful of multipurpose fields, a combination of turf and “first-class” grass surfaces similar to those seen at the college level.
“Our plan is to utilize the auditorium, the gymnasium, to maintain the relationship with the sheriff’s department, and to construct four first-class, multipurpose fields right away,” Laraway said.
Laraway said the project’s first phase, which is expected to cost around $4 million, involves the design and construction of the new fields as well as maintaining the integrity of the current building.
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, asked Laraway if North Carroll’s legacy was going to be recognized, and Laraway said that’s “absolutely 100% our intention.”
“We want to be part of the community, as I am a person that lives there,” Laraway said. “We don’t want to be somebody that comes in and tries to change history. Our intention is to actually name this the ‘Panther Sports Complex.’ ”
Lyburn told the commissioners that Hampstead town officials were in favor of the plan, which calls for a due diligence period of no more than 180 days upon contract agreement. A settlement is to occur within 30 days of the end of the due diligence time frame, or no later than June 30, according to the contract’s general terms.
The sheriff’s office won’t be charged any rent for a 10-year period, according to the contract terms.
“I think it’s the best, deal let’s say, that we have out there,” Lyburn said. “It satisfies what the community wanted, what the town wanted, [and] the citizens of Carroll County. I think this is a great asset and it’s going to bring a lot of people into the county. It will highlight the county and put us on the map for athletics, especially with the turf fields.”
The commissioners couldn’t hide their emotions just before coming together to vote.
“I am firmly convinced this is the best agreement we’ve come up with to this point,” Weaver said. “If this all comes out the way it’s envisioned, it will put Carroll County on the map.”
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, said he was glad to see the North Carroll saga coming to an end. Frazier, Weaver and Wantz have been linked to the school-closing decision for several years.
“I’m so happy this is finally moving forward,” Frazier said. “I can’t express how happy I am about this.”
Wantz likened the decision to close North Carroll High, Charles Carroll Elementary and New Windsor Middle, and the aftermath that followed, as “a nightmare ever since its inception,” and said he and his colleagues have absorbed their share of negativity and personal attacks. Wantz said, however, he feels like Carroll County has made solid decisions on those properties since then and expects the same to take place in Hampstead.
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“We’ve been through a lot with this thing … it’s been a long road,” Wantz said. “This was a huge decision today.”