Board to decide today on new middle school


County school board members will have to decide whether to postpone building a new Ellicott Mills Middle School when they vote on next year's capital budget today.

Among other issues facing the board as it votes on Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's proposed $48.7 million capital budget is a plan to increase Howard High School's capacity to 1,600 students in 1998, making it the largest county school. About $400,000 has been earmarked to begin planning for the project next year.

At least four board members at Tuesday's work session said they don't want to delay building a replacement for Ellicott Mills from 1998 to 2002.

"I would like it replaced. I would like to see it moved up," said board vice chairwoman Susan Cook.

Board Chairman Dana Hanna said he is concerned that if the Ellicott Mills project is delayed, the public will perceive the board as being insensitive to the needs of older schools.

Mr. Hanna compared Ellicott Mills to Wilde Lake High School, a 23-year-old building that was demolished this summer to make way for a more than $20 million school, scheduled to open in fall 1996. Dollar for dollar, Wilde Lake would provide proportionately the same number of seats as planned for a new Ellicott Mills, he said.

But regardless of when a replacement for Ellicott Mills is built, half the student population likely will be redistricted to the new northeastern middle school that is set to open near Elkridge Elementary School next fall, said Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin.

School board members also are struggling with a proposal to increase Howard High School's capacity to 1,600 students in 1998, making it the biggest county school. Several board members said Tuesday they are reluctant to go ahead with the plan, fearing the larger size would pose safety and administrative problems and provide a worse academic atmosphere.

"I think if we put 1,600 students in a building, we are asking for problems that we have seen in surrounding counties," Ms. Cook said.

In addition to the 2 p.m. vote on the capital budget, the board also will hold meetings at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Among the issues scheduled for the later meetings are:

* A vote on a site for a northern elementary school that is scheduled to open in 1997 to relieve crowding at Saint John's Lane Elementary. The proposed site is on Route 99, close to Patapsco Middle School.

At a public hearing about the proposed site last month, some parents urged quick approval while others complained about a cellular communications tower that may be built near the school site.

* A report on new, proposed policies for transferring administrators and teachers. An ad-hoc committee of teachers, administrators and parents worked on the policies after the unexpected transfers of more than 60 school employees two years ago.

Board members will hold a public hearing Nov. 10 and vote on the new transfer rules Nov. 22.

* A public hearing to help select the name of the new northeastern middle school being built near Elkridge Elementary that is set to open next fall. A committee of parents, teachers and administrators came up with the name of Landing Hills Middle, which angered some Elkridge residents who wanted the school to reflect their town name.

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