Regional high school gets support; Frederick, Carroll officials join in push for facility; 'Example for the state'; Approval needed from school boards, which fear problems


The push to build a regional high school in Mount Airy won the support yesterday of Carroll and Frederick officials, but still must gain the approval of the counties' respective school boards.

A regional high school was the center of discussion yesterday during the annual meeting of the Carroll and Frederick county commissioners and Mount Airy officials at the town fire hall. Several referred to a recent endorsement of the project by state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon, a former president of Carroll County Board of Education.

"Both boards should investigate the feasibility of a joint school," Dixon said yesterday during a phone interview after the meeting.

"Because of the rapid growth in both counties and transportation issues, now is the time to give this consideration," said Dixon, who, as a member of the state Board of Public Works, votes on school construction.

David Gray, president of the Frederick County board of commissioners, said a high school was feasible and "would put Mount Airy on the map." He urged officials to "stand back and think as creatively as possible. Don't give up.

"If we can find a reasonable way to make this work, it can be an example for the state," he said.

Mayor Gerald R. Johnson said the town, which straddles the Carroll-Frederick border, has grown by more than 1,000 homes in the past eight years and can justify its own high school. Construction of elementary and middle schools in the area have encouraged more residential development, he said.

Because growth is occurring throughout the town, the high school would need to be regional and draw from Carroll and Frederick and possibly Howard and Montgomery counties.

Frederick Commissioner Lennie Thompson said the school jurisdictions should draw the boundaries. One county should assume the financial responsibility for building and operating the school and charge tuition to adjoining counties for their students who attend the regional school, he said.

When Mount Airy High School closed in 1968, the town lost part of its identity, many residents say. Depending on their county of residence, students may travel as far as 15 miles to South Carroll High School in Taylorsville or Linganore High near New Market.

"In Mount Airy, our community is split in half because of the high school," said resident Irene Brown. "Kids who live on the same street don't know each other or they feel like they are in competition with each other. A regional high school would eliminate the tension. We could do more things together as a community."

Churches, fire halls and schools are traditionally the centers of a small town, said Councilman William E. Wagner.

"How can we have a center of community when we have two high schools miles apart?" he asked.

School boards have called a regional high school a logistical nightmare, but have agreed to talk with organizers of the local effort. Gray said he would attend an information meeting with school officials set for 7: 30 p.m. March 18 at the Mount Airy Fire Carnival Grounds.

"Preach the Smart Growth gospel," said Frederick Commissioner Ilona Hogan. "You are asking for something a little outside the school board box, but you have a good argument in Smart Growth."

Hogan was referring to state legislation that encourages development in existing communities, such as Mount Airy.

Funding is available for projects that meet Smart Growth criteria.

"The school boards say problems with logistics are too great, but if people really want it to work, it can be worked out," said Johnson. "If these problems are insurmountable, I would say to scrap it. But, if everybody works together, this can be done, and we can save money as well."

Mount Airy has water and sewer service and a possible site for a school on the Frederick County side of the town.

A local high school would mean a significant decrease in transportation costs for both districts, Johnson said.

Pub Date: 2/23/99

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