Officials in southern Carroll County lament 'mistake' in not building school Overcrowding laid to decision in '70s


A school that made it to the drawing board but not to the building lot 20 years ago might have prevented overcrowding for South Carroll students today.

"Our children are suffering because our officials made a mistake years ago," said Jeane Sandruck-Fahey, whose son will attend Sykesville Middle School in 1995. By then, the school for grades six through eight will be more than 200 students above capacity.

Early in the 1970s, the Board of Education and the county commissioners approved Berrett Middle School, to be built on the grounds of South Carroll High along Route 26. The building would have accommodated about 900 students, said Lester Surber, county supervisor of school facilities and planning.

"It would have lessened concerns for accommodating middle school students throughout South Carroll," Mr. Surber said.

Yale Stenzler, executive director of the state's Interagency Committee, said the state approved the project and allocated $169,000 for architectural fees in fiscal 1974.

About $36,000 of that money was spent, he said.

Carroll County requested funds to continue the project in 1975, but the state deferred funding. By 1976, Berrett School was no longer listed in the capital improvements projects.

Del. Richard N. Dixon, who was a member of the county school board at the time and its president from 1975 to 1977, said the Carroll delegation to the General Assembly "basically killed the project."

Mr. Dixon said planning money had been spent for the middle school. The commissioners and the school board had approved the decision, and the school had "been placed on course for development." The decision to scrap the project came from the Carroll legislative delegation, he said.

In a March 12, 1993, letter urging the county commissioners to build a new middle school in South Carroll to alleviate crowding at Sykesville Middle, Mr. Dixon wrote of his regrets.

"I have always regretted that we did not build a Berrett area middle school to cope with future needs in South Carroll," he stated. "The board wisely planned this school. Unfortunately, due to political influence, the project was killed. We are now seeing the results of this bad decision."

Members of the delegation through the 1970s -- former Sen. Jacob Yingling, former Dels. Raymond Beck and V. Lanny Harchenhorn and Del. Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll -- all said they have little or no recollection of the project.

"I can't believe we would have had money for a school and turned it down," said Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick and Howard. "It wasn't cut out by the delegation."

Mr. Harchenhorn said: "There was no way I would have ever opposed something which would have benefited my constituents."

Had the county proceeded with Berrett School, it would have converted Mount Airy Middle into an elementary school, Mr. Surber said.

"I recall some opposition to that plan," he said. "Individuals in leadership voiced their concern to the legislature."

The county provided final schematic documents for the Berrett project to the state, he said.

Vernon Smith, director of school support services, said he too remembers that the South Carroll community was involved in a major debate on the proposed school. The debate ended when "the delegation nixed the concept," he said.

Former Mount Airy Mayor Lewis Dixon said the town, which lost its high school when South Carroll High opened in 1967, "vigorously opposed" the closing of its middle school.

"We have objected for 35 years to any plans to remove schools from Mount Airy," he said. "We are still trying to get our high school back."

The former mayor said he was certain he called on the Carroll delegation for help. The pressure from Mount Airy constituents may have worked. In 1977, the state transferred planning funds from Berrett to another project: the renovation and expansion of Mount Airy Middle.

Parents say now is the time to rectify the situation. They are meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday with county and state officials at the school to push for the construction of Oklahoma Road Middle School on 20 acres north of Liberty Road.

"Postponing is unacceptable," said Bud Herndon, president of the Sykesville PTA. "The county needs to figure some way to correct this mistake."

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