Last year, the Redistricting and School Closure Committee studied the various possibilities for the future of Carroll County’s public school system and concluded that before worrying about anything else, something must be done about aging East Middle School, calling it the “unavoidable driver of all planning concerns.”
Last month, a feasibility study commissioned in response to the redistricting committee’s report regarding the future of East Middle was made public and discussed at a Board of Education meeting, suggesting five options to renovate or replace East, two of which would also replace aging William Winchester Elementary and two of which would mean building a new middle school outside of Westminster’s city limits on the campus of Friendship Valley Elementary.
Last week, interested citizens and some officials spoke at a a public hearing for the Educational Facilities Master Plan, differing in their opinions but in agreement that it’s well past time to figure out what to do about East. The feasibility study presented five options:
- Option A: Renovate the existing building, demolish the existing two-story addition and the BEST annex and construct a new two-story addition at an estimated cost of $60,326,382.
- Option B: A two-story replacement middle school northeast of the existing building on the East Middle site at an estimated $59,958,175.
- Option C: A two-story replacement middle school northeast of the existing building and a one-story elementary school at the southwest corner of the East Middle site to form a K-8 campus at an estimated $97,330,490.
- Option D: A two-story replacement middle school southwest of Friendship Valley at an estimated $55,992,239.
- Option E: A one-story elementary school southwest of Friendship Valley and a 2-story middle school next to the proposed elementary school to form a K-8 campus of 3 schools at an estimated $91,664,728.
To be sure, there is no perfect solution. And all are pricey. But previous discussion, the feasibility study and public comments have us convinced that Option C solves the most problems without creating as much disruption as some of the others.
Under this plan, East Middle remains in the city of Westminster, walking distance for many students who live in Carroll’s largest municipality as well as walking distance from numerous facilities, such as the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster. (There are currently 50 students who walk to the club from East after school and that number is sure to grow.)
Under this plan, the two county schools most in need of repairs and refurbishing are addressed and the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade campus model that his been suggested repeatedly is put into play.
Under this plan, students at East and William Winchester go about learning at their present facilities during construction and there is no need to redistrict afterward. (Moving East to the Friendship Valley campus would necessitate major redistricting given that middle school-aged kids who live in that area presently go to West Middle.)
Under this plan, the numerous sports fields on Friendship Valley’s campus remain intact, giving local recreation councils and thousands of soccer- and lacrosse-playing kids the ability to continue using them.
A major drawback to option C is space. Is there truly enough room to build to accommodate two schools, and two BEST programs, and safely handle all the buses?
It’s also going to be hard to see the building itself go. It’s historic and it was home to Westminster High School for 35 years, producing graduates who’ve made innumerable contributions to our community. (Perhaps there is a way to preserve or incorporate the Art Deco facade?)
And, of course, this is the most expensive option and it will take the longest to complete.
But compared to the other options, three of which do nothing to address William Winchester; two of which call for a 3-mile campus move that will necessitate redistricting, changes in feeder patterns and displace rec councils, and one which calls for a pricey renovation to a nearly century-old edifice, we’re convinced a new K-8 campus on the current site is the best alternative.