Board moves forward on plan for high school in Westminster area; $800,000 OK'd for design, though site is undetermined


Although the location for a second high school in Westminster is still up in the air, the Carroll County Board of Education is moving forward with plans to build it.

Voting 4-1 last night, the school board allocated about $800,000 to pay for the high school's design and other preliminary engineering work.

"The Board of Education has a responsibility to the students and citizens of this county to move forward and bring this school on line," said board member C. Scott Stone.

Susan W. Krebs dissented, voicing concern that the county commissioners have not guaranteed funding for the school, which has an estimated $38 million cost. She suggested holding off on hiring an architect until Tuesday, when the board meets with the commissioners and can discuss the project.

"I am skeptical to approve an $813,000 contract when we don't know what direction we are going in," Krebs said. "We need to send a message to the commissioners that we need an answer."

The school board and commissioners continue to debate whether the school should be constructed adjacent to Cranberry Station Elementary School, or at another site.

Ray Prokop, the school system's construction supervisor, said the only hope for opening the school on schedule in 2002 is to move forward on the Cranberry site. Prokop said the project is weeks behind schedule, but with last night's hiring of an architectural and engineering firm, there is hope to get it on track.

"If everything goes smoothly, if we can get some of the design time shortened and get some cooperation from the county, there's a good chance," he said.

Prokop explained that hiring the architect takes into account the possibility that another site may be chosen. As part of the contract, the architect would perform a feasibility study on a new site. Money for that study would be returned to the school system or allocated elsewhere if the school remains at Cranberry.

If the school is built on another site, it is likely to open at least a year late, school officials have said.

School Board President Gary W. Bauer said that the school system is assuming a school will be built at Cranberry.

"We are moving ahead with this site unless the commissioners can give us something else," Bauer said.

The later opening is a trade officials and residents have said they are willing to make to find a more suitable location.

Building the school at Cranberry was initially expected to cost about $29 million, but the price is now $38 million, partly because underground rock at the site must be removed. Building the school elsewhere would likely cost less, school officials have said.

Many have complained the athletic fields at the Cranberry location would be separated from the high school by Center Street, forcing students to cross the street or walk through a tunnel.

The high school is expected to be modeled after Century High School, which is being built in South Carroll and is expected to open in 2001. The board last night hired SHW Group Inc., which designed Century, to design the Westminster school.

Nearly $180,000 has been spent on the Cranberry site and would be lost if another location is chosen. About $150,000 was spent to build a tunnel beneath Center Street. A $30,000 project is under way to examine the Cranberry site to provide geological information for the designers.

In other business last night, administrators presented the school board with the proposed calendar for 2000-2001, which was immediately met with skepticism.

At issue is a call for eight early-dismissal days in the elementary schools to give teachers additional planning time. Four are scheduled this year.

Dorothy Mangle, assistant superintendent for instruction, explained that elementary teachers -- who receive about four hours of planning time per week -- need large blocks of time for large staff meetings or projects, and can get them only with early dismissals.

"If you were given a large task, would you want to work once a day for 20 minutes over several days, or be given two hours and 45 minutes without distraction?" she asked.

Mangle added that with the revised calendar, "you get blocks of time when the whole faculty is available."

Echoing a sentiment held by the entire board, Bauer said he was against that move because it would take students out of the classroom and the proposal seemed to break a pledge made by staff this year to keep early dismissals to a minimum.

"We said to staff we don't want to use the calendar as a method to increase planning," he said. "We're concerned about instructional time."

The proposed calendar also calls for a change in the way emergency school closings are handled. In the past, if any of four built-in emergency days were not used, they were added to spring break. In the proposed calendar, the board, as the end of the spring approached, would designate certain remaining school days as vacation days.

Bauer said he would support using remaining days for class time, adding that more time with teachers should never be viewed as a negative.

"It's a plus for [pupils] to have more instruction," Bauer said. "I'd rather keep them in school."

The community has a month to comment on the calendar, and the board will vote on a final version next month.

Also last night, the committee overseeing a performance audit of the school system presented a proposed time line to the board. In January, the committee hopes to hire an independent firm to conduct the audit, which would begin in February or March.

The county commissioners are withholding $1 million in school funding and have promised to release the money when the audit is under way.

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