Enrollment is continuing to outgrow capacity, according to the Howard County Public School System feasibility study that was presented to the Board of Education.
The annual presentation, a review of long-term capital planning and attendance estimates, offers board members a 10-year calendar view of which schools could need renovations or construction based on enrollment.
The 2021 feasibility presentation, presented at Thursday’s school board meeting, illustrated five changes from the previous year’s study including 233 additional seats needed at Dunloggin Middle School in 2024 instead of the previously projected 195; the county’s new 43rd elementary school has a capacity for 600 seats including regional program seats in 2025; an additional 195 seats will be needed at Thomas Viaduct Middle School in 2025; an additional 298 seats will be needed at Worthington Elementary School in 2027; and regional program seats were recommended at the new 44th elementary school in 2028.
Talbott Spring Elementary School is currently under construction, with renovations set to be completed in 2022. The county’s new 13th high school is also currently under construction in Jessup, set to be complete in 2023, along with the Hammond High School renovation.
The suggestion to add 195 seats at Thomas Viaduct Middle, the most recently renovated middle school in the county, was discussed in detail Thursday night.
“It’s really disappointing to me that the school system would suggest that a brand new school get a renovation to avoid redistricting, when there is capacity at existing schools, specifically at existing schools that have been waiting for renovations because of deferred maintenance,” board member Jolene Mosley said. “I think that is a major problem.”
Daniel Lubeley, director of capital planning and construction for the district, suggested this is a problem that would be difficult to solve with redistricting.
“We’re getting to the point where it will become much more difficult to keep doing redistricting because as a county we’re running out of seats overall,” Lubeley said.
Mosley said that by delaying renovations at Oakland Mills Middle School, the county is doing a disservice to a school that has nearly half its students eligible for free and reduced cost meals.
The 2020 feasibility study recommended Oakland Mills Middle get an additional 292 seats in 2026, as well as receiving a HVAC renovation, which has been deferred since 2009. Those plans are now postponed from 2026 until 2032, according to the 2021 feasibility study.
Lubeley said the delay in updates to Oakland Mills Middle was due to the revisions in other projections.
Board member Vicky Cutroneo said she was surprised about the need for additional seats at Thomas Viaduct Middle because of how new the school is. Currently, the school is at 130% capacity. Cutroneo said it is older schools like Oakland Mills Middle and Oakland Mills High School that get delayed to favor proposals like the one at Thomas Viaduct Middle.
Thomas Viaduct Middle is not the only school over capacity. For the 2021-22 school year, the school system is projecting 10 elementary schools, three middle schools and four high schools will be above the targeted rates of 90% to 100% capacity.
“Without understanding the real impact of new construction as we go forward, we are going to keep ending up where we are right now, woefully short of seats,” Cutroneo said. “We’re always just trying to chase that capacity and not having enough money to do so.”
As part of the capacity discussion, school planning manager Tim Rogers said enrollment did not reach expected levels in the 2020-21 school year, due to the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the decreased numbers this school year, the school system expects enrollment will rebound in the coming years. In 2020, the district saw 6,891 new students and lost 8,130 students, leading to an overall decrease in enrollment of about 2%. Total enrollment in 2020 was 56,279.
Rogers said it is projected that during the 2021-22 school year, the school system will regain most of the enrollment lost in the previous year.
The school system also recommended the exploration of a regional childhood center as well as monitoring projections for a new elementary school.
Mosley and board Chair Chao Wu both suggested the school system explore using existing schools or property for the regional childhood center rather than building a new facility.
The Board of Education and the Howard County Council are set to discuss the feasibility study at their Monday meeting.