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School board approves plans for new Wilde Lake Middle School

The village of Wilde Lake will soon be getting a new middle school.

The Howard County Board of Education last week voted unanimously to replace Wilde Lake Middle School — the county's oldest middle school — with a new facility that would open in August 2017. Construction is planned to begin in July 2015.

The new school will be built on current school property, just south of the existing middle school, so students won't be displaced during the nearly two years of construction, Howard County Public School System's Director of School Construction Bruce Gist told the board Nov. 21.

"Columbia is growing," Gist said. "Our projections show the need for an addition, but the building is in need of a systematic update."

The school system had initially planned for a renovation and addition at the 515-seat school, which opened in 1969 and was last renovated in 1998. As with the new school, construction would have started in 2015, but earlier this fall the Wilde Lake community called for the project to be accelerated. The board asked staff for a feasibility study on the school, which led to the final recommendation for a new facility, which will seat 662 students.

The plans call for a "net-zero" building. Robyn Toth, an architect with TCA Architects, described a "net-zero" building as one that "over the course of the first year, the amount of energy consumed by the building will be produced on-site, creating a net-zero energy consumption." This would be done, Toth said, through numerous green features — namely, solar panels.

In planning for a net-zero building, Gist said the system was "confident" it would receive a $2.5 million grant from the Maryland Energy Administration for the school. The final price tag on the school would be $36.6 million.

Board members last week lauded the plans, which could create the county's first "gold" middle school through a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

"This is beyond exciting," said board member Ellen Giles. "More so for what opportunities it would create for the students, in terms of the deficiencies at the current school. I am over the moon about the proposal."

The project is contingent upon funding from the state, Gist said, but he again said staff was confident that the new school would qualify for funding. The replacement school would cost the state $14.1 million, and $20 million would be funded at the county level — less than the county cost of $22 million for a renovation and addition, Gist said.

When the school is completed, Toth said, there would be a separate bus loop and parent pick-up/drop-off area. There would be more natural light in the school — a feature lacking in the current facility, which is "virtually windowless," Gist said. The building would also be compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act, and be completely wheelchair-accessible. The current school is not, and is not up to current educational specifications in other ways — undersized classrooms and numerous repurposed spaces, for example.

The new school will be built on open space next to the current building that is used for recess and community activities. Chief Facilities Operator Ken Roey said that a plan to accommodate students' and community members' recreational needs during construction hasn't been looked at yet, but there are possibilities.

"The high school fields are close by," Roey said, noting the close proximity the middle school has to Wilde Lake High School, about 1,000 feet away. "We'll figure out some phasing plans to make the walk to whatever area they'll be using safe. I think there are some possibilities."

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