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Learn from past when deciding fate of old school buildings

Learn from past when deciding fate of old school buildings
The 1936 historic art deco Westminster High School building is shown in December, 1977. It now houses the East Middle School, one of several school buildings being considered for closure the Carroll County Board of Education. (Photo courtesy of Maryland Historic)

If you think that our present day public discourse regarding the various education issues in Carroll County is interesting, researching the contentious history of education in Carroll County is even more so.

On May 4, 1923, the Democratic Advocate ran an article about a political war of words that raged in the county over the location of a new high school in southern portion of the county.

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"For many months past fierce rivalry has divided the advocates of Sykesville and Eldersburg as the prospective site of a new high school building in Freedom district.

"Feeling runs high and the antagonism culminated Wednesday afternoon in the invasion of Westminster by more than 200 representative citizens of Freedom district…"

In 1921, the county solved its budget problems by simply not paying the teachers, according to a Feb. 18, 1921 article in the Union Bridge Pilot

In the 1920s and 30s, a bitter debate raged over building a new Westminster High School to replace the 1898 structure at the corner of Green and Center Streets. The county unsuccessfully tried three times, on May 15, 1922, Sept. 26, 1927, and April 3, 1934, to get voters to approve bond bills for schools.

A new art deco style Westminster High School was eventually built in 1936. It replaced the 38-year old structure at Green and Center in town. A Nov. 27, 1936 newspaper article found in research by the Maryland Historical Trust lamented, "so much for the old high school, for already the students have said their farewells, they will not be so soon forgotten though, for many a romance has culminated within its halls and classrooms…"

The 1936 Westminster High School building now houses the East Middle School. It is one of several school buildings being considered to be closed by the current deliberations of the school board.

Barrels of ink, tears, and acrimony will be spilled over the decision. The school board deserves our utmost respect for their leadership and transparency in the development of thoughtful and well-considered decisions about the future of education in Carroll County, decisions that are sure to make everyone unhappy.

But it is at times like this that one wonders why old school buildings on college campuses are respected, revered and often saved with great pride. Yet older public school buildings, that many taxpayers made huge sacrifices to pay for with hard-earned dollars and bake sales, are simply discarded by the government like used candy wrappers after it is no longer convenient to use and maintain them.

Generations upon generations will be sad if the old 1936 Westminster High School building is closed. Especially because in the past, local and state governments have developed a horrific reputation of demolishing old historic public structures by incompetence and willful neglect. (Then again, in recent years, under the current county staff leadership, there are examples in the county of successful adaptive re-use of the old structures.)

It is simply unconscionable to allow a building that was once the vibrant social, emotional and economic center of a community to be allowed to die and rot in the middle of that community.

Yet public officials do it all the time. I guess they can't see it from their house.

One can only hope that if old historic public buildings are to be closed, that concurrent conversations are taking place to re-use the structures for the benefit of the greater community.

It is a violation of the public trust to simply allow the buildings to painfully crumble before our eyes.

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