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Catholic school site selection closer Sykesville location being considered


Parents who have been pushing for more than four years to open a Catholic high school are homing in on a target: the Route 32 corridor in southern Carroll and northern Howard counties.

Sykesville also happens to be where the state is expected to declare a 131-acre site at Springfield Hospital Center surplus property. But the hospital's Warfield complex is only one place being suggested for the school, said Michael Balhoff, a layman who is chairing a committee on expanding Roman Catholic schools in the region.

Balhoff, a member of St. Louis Catholic Church in Clarksville, said the Archdiocese of Baltimore is a few steps away from seriously considering a particular location and that critical issues such as financing and what kind of school should be opened are still unresolved.

A feasibility study by Legg Mason Realty Group over the summer estimated an unmet demand for 2,500 to 3,500 seats in Catholic schools in the two counties. It estimated that by 2020, demand will be 50 percent higher than it was in 1990.

The growing suburban Catholic population has prompted this first serious look at a new high school in the Archdiocese of Baltimore since the 1960s. At the same time, groups in Harford, Anne Arundel and Frederick counties are considering building high schools.

The Warfield property has attracted other contenders. Cellar Door Productions is considering it for a concert pavilion, and the town of Sykesville hopes to preserve several 100-year-old brick buildings as the small business center of a planned community.

The expansion committee "tentatively has indicated that the Route 32 area between Howard and Carroll appears to be a likely [place] for a new school, but no determination has been made," Balhoff said.

The committee hopes to make recommendations in the spring, with a comprehensive plan that also addresses the crowding and long waiting lists at the Catholic elementary schools in Howard and Carroll counties.

For example, one possibility is a combination middle and high school that would free space in the crowded elementaries, allowing them to accept more students in lower grades.

At a forum for area Catholic parents last year in Ellicott City, several parents from Carroll and Howard told officials that the crowding at the elementary schools is just as serious as the lack of a Catholic high school. Many said they couldn't get their children into schools run by their own parishes.

Neither Carroll nor Howard has a Catholic high school. Parents such as Gaile Waldhauser of Sykesville have been working to start one since 1992. Her daughter, Krista, was in first grade then. She is in fifth grade now, and Waldhauser is hoping that a new school will be ready by the time Krista is a freshman.

"They're still dragging their feet," said Waldhauser, who was joined by other impatient parents at the forum last year.

"They can see now we have to have a high school out here," said Waldhauser. She attends St. Joseph Catholic Community but sends her two children to Holy Family School in Randallstown, the nearest Catholic elementary school.

The archdiocese is moving carefully, Balhoff said, because the issue is broader than just building a high school in Carroll County. Parents who want an elementary school are just as earnest, and the feasibility study by Legg Mason was critical to establish not just the demand, but the likelihood that families could afford to support a school, said Balhoff, a financial analyst with Legg Mason's research department.

The study looked at population, parish membership and family incomes in Howard and Carroll, and how far people were willing to drive their children to school.

Some of the Catholic schools in Baltimore are struggling with declining enrollments as the population shifts to the suburbs, causing concern that some of them might close.

Because many suburban teen-agers attend schools in the city, a new high school in Carroll and Howard could affect enrollment at those schools.

Pub Date: 12/04/96

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