Crowding worsening at Sykesville Middle School


For the past three months, Carroll Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said she has "begged the governor" to see for himself the overcrowding at Sykesville Middle School.

"People are moving to our communities faster than we can act," Mrs. Gouge said yesterday as she toured the school.

"We are growing the way other counties did 10 years ago, and we need the same attention they had."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer didn't respond to the invitation -- he was in England yesterday -- but Sykesville Mayor Kenneth W. Clark joined the commissioner as Principal Donald Pyles guided them through South Carroll's only middle school.

The principal said the building is bearing the burden of the county's "push to build" residences without adequate facilities.

"In this neighborhood, families with mature children are buying," he said. "It hits us without warning."

Prospective buyers often call Mr. Pyles before making a decision to move to South Carroll. He tells them his school is "grossly overcrowded."

When a buyer weighs lower taxes against crowded schools, economics wins, he said. The school opens its doors on "wall-to-wall children."

In four years, the Sykesville Middle enrollment has climbed from 740 to 1,065, nearly 200 students above its 878-student design capacity. The principal sees no relief in the immediate future.

"I have an industrial developer who wants to rezone his property for 192 townhouses," said Mayor Clark, in a reference to Raincliffe Center.

Mr. Pyles winced and said, "They can build townhouses in six months. It takes four years to build a school."

Mr. Pyles wonders how much longer he will be able to make his school work.

"We are hurting our kids," he said. "I used to know the first name of every kid. Now, sometimes, I see one and wonder if he goes here.

"We are lucky we have good kids and good schools. It could change rapidly. Society pays the price for a simple $10 million [cost of a new school] with problems they never thought of."

Two more portables will be on the grounds next year, bringing to 14 the number of classrooms outside the building. While students all have a homeroom, portables further tax a school's facilities.

The cafeteria staff schedules four lunch periods in its 360-seat space -- 20 places less than the number of sixth-graders.

The media center, renovated from an auto shop classroom when the high school became the middle school in 1967, also is "grossly inadequate," said media specialist Ann McHale.

"It should be at least double this size," she said. "With today's technology, this center is too small even for 700 children."

The average physical education class has four teachers and 150 children, often squeezed into a main gym and an auxiliary room.

"Our kids go outside a lot for gym, even in the cold," Mr. Pyles said.

The state has given the county planning approval for a new middle school, to be built on Oklahoma Road north of Liberty Road. The $11 million building could open in 1997.

"We could reach 1,200 students before the new school opens," Mr. Pyles said. "You can run an orderly environment, but eventually you get to the problem points."

Repairs to a leaking roof are further complicating the crowded conditions. Workers have been ripping out the second-floor ceiling to repair damage from winter snow and ice.

For several weeks, Mr. Pyles said, the hallway was lined with large buckets to catch the spills.

Construction dust still sets off the smoke alarms that send the entire school outside on fire drills.

"We have to replace all the ceilings, a difficult task with a full complement of children," Mr. Pyles said.

Parent groups have met frequently with legislators and county officials.

Many feel 1997 is too long to wait for construction.

"From a parenting end, I know there is an excellent staff here," said the mayor, who is the father of two students. "We are all closely aware of what is going on here."

As the group passed a pile of plywood panels stored in the basement, the principal explained how parents and students had built a portable stage for a recent production.

Mrs. Gouge said, "It is amazing what people will do, if you ask them."

"That is what we are living on here," Mr. Pyles replied.

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