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Year in Review: Fate of Charles Carroll, New Windsor buildings decided; North Carroll continually debated

North Carroll High, New Windsor Middle and Charles Carroll Elementary schools were closed at the end of the 2015-2016 school year. During 2018, the Board of County Commissioners determined the fate of two of the buildings and heavily debated what’s next for the other.

Charles Carroll Elementary

After closing in 2016, the former Charles Carroll Elementary School was chosen as the site of a new community center.

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The school building’s demolition began in April, after the county held a handful of walk-throughs of the school in summer 2017 for the community to say goodbye.

In October, the community got the chance to offer input on the community center during a meeting with Commissioner Steve Wantz at the Pleasant Valley fire hall.

The Charles Carroll Community Center is planned to have a gym, multipurpose rooms and a kitchenette, and would have a maximum capacity of around 400 people. The project is slated to cost $3.5 million, and is expected to break ground in fall of 2019.

New Windsor Middle

In May, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved leasing the former New Windsor Middle School to Springdale Preparatory School for two years, with an option to buy, after months of discussion on the issue. Discussions surrounding the sale of the school appear to begin at least as early as the end of February 2017 — before the property was officially in the county's hands. A possible contract was in the works as early as summer 2017, a Public Information Act Request executed by the Carroll County Times showed. As of June 13, 2017, there was a draft of an unsigned agreement of purchase and sale for the former school.

The co-educational boarding and day school opened for its first academic year in fall 2017 at its current location, 500 Main St. in New Windsor. In the deal struck in the spring, the former New Windsor Middle building, located at 1000 Green Valley Road, would be leased to the prep school for $100,000 the first year and $150,000 the second year, with the option to buy it for $6.4 million at any point during that time.

The property became Springdale Preparatory School's Academic Campus as of May 24 and the school transitioned its summer academic programming there on July 9, according to Head of School Johnny Graham.

“We facilitate all curricular, athletic, and summer programming within our Academic Campus. We are now a K-12 academic community, therefore, the K-5 Lower School will operate in a portion of the Academic Campus until the Middle and Upper Schools grow to capacity,” Graham said via email, noting that the property at 500 Main St. (formerly the Brethren Service Center) serves as Springdale's Residential Campus, home of the school's boarding student population.

North Carroll High

The Board of County Commissioners tossed around multiple ideas for the future of the former North Carroll High School this year. But as 2018 nears its end and a new board has been seated, various concerns including costs, public safety and zoning have plans at a standstill.

The county pays about $35,000 per month to maintain the building, with a total annual allotment of $500,000 — and commissioners voted during this year’s budget to allow three years to find a solution.

However, a letter from Ted Zaleski, the county’s director of management and budget, to the commissioners dated Oct. 24 states the county cannot afford the building and suggests the board get rid of its responsibility to the building.

“We can’t afford this building,” Zaleski wrote. “A debatable position I’m sure, but when I look at our fiscal position, pressures on services, facilities and infrastructure, and looming fiscal concerns I feel comfortable taking the position: We can’t afford this building.

“If someone came to you with a proposal to give you a big, old building that needed tens of millions of dollars spent on it so that you could use the gym, the auditorium and a handful of rooms, I don’t think you would be interested.”

Myriad proposals have been discussed to save the school from demolition: a charter school, Next Generation 9-1-1 training center, and a community center to make use of the property as a whole. There have also been suggestions of ways to make use of its amenities separately: the temporary use of its auditorium for winter performances, extra storage space for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office’s Training Academy, and use of its field and stadium for the North Carroll Recreation Council.

Aside from the sheriff’s use of a portion of the building for its training academy since November 2017, the only other part of the property being used are the fields and stadium. The decision to allow the North Carroll Recreation Council to use the facilities, and the allotment of additional space for the Sheriff’s Office training academy, were the only uses the commissioners approved in 2018.

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The September 2017 plan to get an artificial turf field at the school also fell flat when by May of this year the county had received less than $10,000 of the $500,000 community fundraising target.

Costs play a role in the county’s reluctance to move forward on any plans, especially as they relate to public safety.

When the commissioners discussed potentially allowing organizations to use the former school’s auditorium, county staff alerted them to repairs that would need to be made to eliminate tripping risks on sunken parts of the sidewalk and parts of concrete stairs that have broken.

Also, the Office of the State Fire Marshal cleared the fire alarm system and the sprinklers are functioning, according to District 2 Commissioner Richard Weaver — but former Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, was worried that the additional stress could bring up unexpected repair costs the county won’t be able to fund.

Another suggestion discussed this year, as a way to reuse the school without losing money or demolishing it, was rezoning the property to allow business and industrial uses.

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Mayor Chris Nevin told the Times June 5 the town was “open to considering a portion of the property to be rezoned.”

However, Weaver, who represents Hampstead and was recently seated for his second four-year term, said he didn’t want to approve rezoning the property before a potential buyer or renter expressed interest in moving in — in case there was a chance it could be a school again.

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