Hampstead planning commission ponders additional schools


Hampstead officials have to make a decision: Should they say no to a developer because the schools are crowded?

Or should they say yes so the crowding becomes bad enough to justify state aid for a new school?

In the past, they have done the latter.

"If we waited for them to build new schools, we'd never have them," said Arthur Moler, chairman of the Hampstead Planning and Zoning Commission and a longtime town council member.

Although Mr. Moler doesn't plan to reject the latest development, the newest members of the commission are looking closely at a school system report that says elementary school space is "seriously inadequate" and middle school space is "inadequate."

Elementary school space in northeast Carroll County won't be adequate until 2001, when an elementary school is scheduled to open in Manchester, at Route 30 and Fridinger Mill Road, a school official said.

The planning commission could deny Martin K. Hill and Masonry Contractors' proposal to add 220 homes to North Carroll Farms off Route 30, south of Greenmount, until the school is at least further along in planning and funding.

For now, approval for the proposal is on hold while the commission studies its potential impacts. It could be discussed again at the next commission meeting at 7 p.m. July 25 in the Hampstead Town Hall.

However, that meeting will be at least one commissioner short, with the resignation of longtime member and former mayor Oden Kemp this month. The commission normally has five members; Mr. Kemp's absence could lead to a tie vote.

For any proposed development, the commission asks for reports from the school, town and county offices on whether they can handle the increased population. If any of those offices can't handle the growth, the commission can say no to the developer.

But it isn't that simple. Usually these offices qualify their comments by saying schools could install portable classrooms, or a that a new well could be drilled if water is a problem.

And so the commission members usually have a tough time saying no, said Mr. Kemp.

"There no tools to control growth. You don't have a reason to say no to a developer," even if a town official would like to, he said. "You'll be a stuck gun, in court the next day."

The difference this time, he said, is that school officials have said the facilities are inadequate until the year 2001, with no qualifiers about portables.

Mr. Kemp resigned this month from the commission, saying that at age 70, he decided his seat should go to a younger member -- someone who has a bigger stake in the future of the town and the schools.

His replacement will be nominated by Mayor Clint Becker and approved by the town council.

But he shares the view of at least one of the new members, Chris Nevin, that if the schools aren't adequate, the commission should say no to growth.

"What do you do?" Mr. Kemp said. "Put them in tepees?"

Spring Garden Elementary School will be 170 students over capacity in September, three years after it opened. Manchester Elementary will be 21 students over and Hampstead Elementary will be 26 students under capacity. And enrollment is projected to grow steadily, said Vernon Smith, director of support services for Carroll County schools.

"Hampstead has historically allowed development to proceed," Mr. Smith said. "My belief is they are of the philosophy that you will not justify a new school if you stop growth."

And they're right, Mr. Smith said. But the drawback is that for a few years, students go to school in portable classrooms.

"It forces us to deal with the overpopulation in ways that are not popular with the citizens," he said. "They see all these houses going up and ask why the Board of Education is allowing this to happen."

The school system has no say, he said, except to tell town and county officials what the projections are and how it would handle the students.

The state will approve planning for a new school only if enrollment projections show it can be filled to capacity within five years of the approval -- about three years after it is built. Projections are based on enrollment trends of the previous three years.

Mr. Moler said the residents of the existing sections of North Carroll Farms are just looking for an excuse to stop development there, and using the school report because it is the latest tool.

"The very thing that allowed those people in, they're trying to use to stop growth in the town of Hampstead," Mr. Moler said.

Mr. Nevin, who lives in North Carroll Farms, said door-slamming isn't the point.

"The certificate I saw said the schools were not adequate," said Mr. Nevin. "If they're not adequate, I'm not in favor of approving it."

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