Parents were bent on stopping the Board of Education from moving forward with the plan to close their beloved school all but rioted. There was a lot of heat in comments at community meetings, and a fist-fight in a town council meeting. Factions from different neighborhoods turned on each other like tribes defending sacred burial grounds.
Two schools were affected, so there were two burial grounds — each full of memories of past glories, romances, life-long friendships and discovery of a wider world.
The issue filled the seats at school board meetings, county commissioner sessions and town government gatherings as people insisted on having their voices heard.
Parents warned of rumbles between students, but it was not an issue with the kids. The parents were the problem.
Letters were fired off to newspaper editors, and state and even federal elected officials. Lawsuits were filed in the courts.
But authorities held their ground, and despite threats of war among not only parents but students as well, they closed some schools and consolidated classes in a new building.
This was, after all, a new era. The middle of the 20th century. The town schools were filled two or three stories high, not counting the basements, with students from grades one through 12, all in one building, new kids from the migration of city families and growing families in a prospering county like Carroll County. Boom times.
And the curriculum needed beefing up, too. Economy of scale dictated that updated labs be provided that would accommodate more students for the tax dollars spent. It was decided.
So, high school students no longer attended Charles Carroll, Taneytown, or Union Bridge or New Windsor. They were bussed to a single-level building that sprawled over former farmland outside Uniontown and would provide for the needs of students in grades 9 through 12.
A couple of years later, the same wars took place in Manchester and Hampstead, whose sports teams were bitter rivals, and would now become allies in a consolidated North Carroll High School at Greenmount.
Fast forward to the mid-1960s and the storyline is copied in the events that led to the building of South Carroll High School “in the middle of nowhere” along Liberty Road. That took away the high schools in Mount Airy and Sykesville. Some argued they didn’t need such a big consolidated school. Eventually, they built another one just a few miles away — Liberty.
Strife continued whenever an old school showed signs of wear and a new school was proposed. Conservative commissioners declined to spend enough to fix the old schools to the satisfaction of parents with students in those buildings. When Westminster High School — the one on Washington Road — was proposed to replace the one on Longwell, the community was divided between those who wanted a more modern facility and those who recalled their days in the old building.
One county commissioner proclaimed that Westminster would never need a school as large as the new one being proposed. It has been patched so many times since then that it outgrew the heating and ventilation it was designed for, and now those upgrades are prohibitively costly (that same commissioner opposed building a new county jail and said the one proposed would never be filled to planned capacity).
In the history of school closings, openings and changes, everyone survived the redistricting that had to take place.
The controversy over North Carroll High School closing and the building of Manchester Valley is part of the historical problem of planning and governance in a traditionally conservative county.
When there is vision, there is resistance to costs. Where there is courage to act, there is resistance to change.
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It’s not just about money. It’s about the ability to change paradigms, and see beyond the next election and into the next explosion of growth and the needs that will come with it.