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Editorial: Rezoning North Carroll High what’s best for Hampstead

What to do with the former North Carroll High School building continues to be a challenge for the Board of County Commissioners.

Initial plans to move Carroll County Public Schools Central Office and a portion of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office there began to fall apart when the commissioners learned the estimated costs would be about $28 million, more than double the amount they had budgeted. Then when the commissioners met with the Hampstead Mayor and Town Council, they learned there is no appetite from town officials, who have zoning authority over the North Carroll High campus, to change the zoning to allow a business to move there.

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On Thursday, the commissioners gave direction to the head of economic development to list the property for lease on a commercial real estate website under the current zoning. But if there are no takers, it seems at least a few of the commissioners are on board with tearing down the building, sans the gym and auditorium, in order to avoid the costs associated with maintaining a vacant property.

Since Carroll County Government took over responsibility for the closed school buildings in 2016, county government has spent more than $300,000 on North Carroll High School in the form of electric, gas, water and sewer bills, various work orders and preventative maintenance, and keeping the grass mowed, according to data provided by the Department of Public Works through February.

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Commissioners agreed to move forward last month with putting the building on Costar. Thursday, the group met with Jack Lyburn, director of the Department of Economic Development, to discuss how to list the facility in a meeting where board members clashed more than once.

It seems to us that the ball is firmly back in the court of the Town of Hampstead. And that it's time to remove emotion from the equation and face facts. The numbers do no support the need for another high school in the next decade or more. (Comprehensive redistricting should help address crowding at Manchester Valley by evening out enrollment among the remaining high schools.)

The county can't afford to keep pumping money into a 50-year-old empty building, especially when there is a $30 million HVAC project looming, in hopes that it might once again be used as a school more than 10 years down the road.

But the property could be an attractive one on the market, if there were more possibilities for its use created by a change of zoning. Located directly across from Fuchs North America spice manufacturer, the property could bring jobs and income to the town of Hampstead.

It seems more likely that the choice is for the town to rezone the property and have some say in what kind of company could make use of the building, or face the reality that the building may cease to exist if county government can't find a lessee under the existing zoning. Quite simply, with the county already struggling to fund existing services and having little wiggle room to fund any more, it is a waste to continue putting taxpayer dollars into an empty building.

By opening up rezoning of the North Carroll High School property, it opens up the options, many of which would be beneficial to the Town of Hampstead and its residents. Those residents need to recognize that reality, and the reality that if their elected officials remain steadfast in their insistence not to rezone, having the building demolished is a very likely possibility.

Your move, Hampstead.



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