Town site proposed for school offices Mayor says plan would revitalize businesses


Hampstead officials are touting the old Hampstead Elementary School as a site for the county school system's headquarters -- a move they say would end a frustrating and contentious search and also boost the North Carroll town's business district.

Several options for consolidating the school board's operations under one roof have surfaced since the county commissioners in December dropped plans to purchase and renovate the 157,000-square-foot former Telemecanique building in Reese. But Commissioner Richard T. Yates says no formal talks have been held on any potential site.

The search for a new school board headquarters has spanned eight years and three boards of commissioners. The Telemecanique deal was abandoned because of environmental concerns over a contaminated well on the Bethel Road property.

The school board's offices are crowded in the 25,000-square-foot south wing of the courthouse annex in Westminster -- space that Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. says is needed by the court system. The rest of the school system's operations, including training facilities, maintenance, a resource center and computer facilities, are spread out in five locations.

Some of those, including the resource center, are housed in a portion of the former Hampstead Elementary, one reason Hampstead Mayor Christopher M. Nevin is aggressively touting that location as the county's best option.

While the cost of the Telemecanique deal -- $4.2 million for the land and building, plus $1.9 million for renovation -- was considered affordable, Mr. Yates cautioned that next year's county budget will be unusually tight.

"We're facing a $5 million shortfall," he said. "We have to watch every penny."

Mr. Yates said the commissioners are aware of some options, such as "land at the airport, property on Center Street and some other buildings which are county-owned."

In a letter to the commissioners last week, Mr. Nevin asked the commissioners to "send a clear message that the county will assume a leadership role in preserving and revitalizing the Main Streets of its towns."

Mr. Nevin cited obvious benefits his town would derive if the school board relocated to Hampstead. Foremost would be the 200 employees who would patronize town businesses.

When Mr. Nevin suggested the move to commissioners last month, renovation costs of $100 a square foot were cited as too high for practical consideration.

In his letter, however, Mr. Nevin estimated renovation costs at $30 a square foot. He said he based that on figures provided by a Prince George's County real estate developer who had renovated an old school similar to Hampstead Elementary.

Mr. Nevin said he believed his $30 renovation rate is much closer to the actual cost of renovation that the county's figure of $100.

Lester Surber, supervisor of school facilities planning, and school board member C. Scott Stone questioned Mr. Nevin's cost projections.

But assuming the project cost $50 a square foot, renovating the 54,000-square-foot school would increase Mr. Nevin's $1.6 million estimate to $2.7 million, still less than the Telemecanique deal.

Mr. Stone says other negatives are associated with the Hampstead school.

"Would it be prudent to abandon a central location [in Westminster] for a town where traffic problems are as well-documented as on Route 30?" he asked.

Mr. Stone said the Hampstead site is in a residential community where 200 more daily workers would have a major negative impact on traffic.

Mr. Surber also questioned whether the space at the Hampstead site was sufficient, saying that the school system may need up to 60,000 square feet.

The commissioners are scheduled to discuss the options Wednesday. "We'll just have to find the best place, at the best price," Mr. Yates said.

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