Parents call new school too small


After nine months of false starts, the county is moving closer to building a new South School Elementary School, but parents think officials are being shortsighted and that the school will be overcrowded when the doors open in 1997.

In recommending a new $8.8 million school for Crownsville, the Anne Arundel County Planning Advisory Board also recommended to County Executive John G. Gary that the building accommodate 312 students, 100 fewer than originally proposed by the school board and the South Shore PTA.

The advisory board's action frustrated parents, who said they had hoped for a school that would be adequate for years.

"I am personally not happy with a 312 capacity because the doors will open and it will be overcrowded," said Karen Liston, president of the South Shore PTA. "They may be saving money now, but down the road it's going to cost the taxpayers money."

Mrs. Liston said she suspects that the new figure underestimates the number of students who have left South Shore for private schools and will return once their community has a new school.

Rodell Phaire, director of facility planning and construction, agreed with Mrs. Liston's assessment of the impact of private school students. He also noted that federal requirements for the inclusion of special instructional programs will require larger, better-equipped facilities.

Thursday, members of the advisory board met to consider the capacity of the new school and determined that a building large enough to house 412 students was unwarranted, said Newton Gentry, acting chairman of the Planning Advisory Board.

"Based on the student enrollment projections given by the Board of Education for the next five or six years, the figure was still below the 312 number," Mr. Gentry said.

The board also based its decision on a formula that took into consideration the possibility of new homes and new students in the South Shore area, he said, and the model projected a student enrollment of less than 312 in five years.

"The thought of building a school that was 100 above and beyond the number just didn't make good sense," he said. "My concern -- and other board members' concerns -- was that if we did this with all of the other [Anne Arundel] schools . . . the county would spend entirely too much on schools."

Mr. Gentry said it would cost $500,000 less to build a school for 312 students rather than 412. "We would rather save the $500,000 and leave that in the coffer for other renovations," he said.

Ray Elwell, a county budget analyst, said he agreed with the advisory board's conclusions. Based on the current school enrollment and projections, he said, the 312 figure was "sufficient."

The push to build a replacement for the 38-year-old school began last year. In September, South Shore students were transferred to Annapolis Middle School to accommodate a two-year renovation plan.

School officials rescinded that plan in April after bids for renovation came in $4 million higher than the amount budgeted.

One month later, the school board decided to raze the old South Shore school and build a new one. The change in plans meant that Crownsville youngsters would have to be bused until September 1997, a year longer than originally scheduled.

The matter is now in Mr. Gary's hands, just as it is up to him to propose the construction of the building to the County Council, said Mr. Elwell.

Mr. Elwell said he thinks Mr. Gary will make such a proposal soon.

Mrs. Liston said she, other members of the PTA and their children attended last Monday's County Council meeting to lobby the members to act quickly and decisively on building a 412-student school.

"We were there to show our support so that the county council would recommend to the PAB that we continue on with South Shore school," said Mrs. Liston. "We've been put through a wringer."

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