New snags in planning for a new, or remodeled, Columbia elementary school

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

State school planners are asking fresh questions about Howard County’s proposal for a 620-seat Talbott Springs Elementary School, a move that could delay construction of a new school or renovation of the existing building by at least a year.

The state has said it won’t earmark funds for a new school, forcing the county to consider remodeling the Columbia building or paying all of the costs for a new one.

At a meeting this week with the Howard County Council, Renee Kamen, the county school system’s manager of school planning, said “the state couldn’t wrap their heads around a 620 capacity school.”

The school system wants the school to have space for 620 students from kindergarten to fifth-grade, according to Kamen.

The school system’s plans have been challenged by the Interagency Commission on School Construction, a group that allocates school construction dollars.

The commission, formerly known as the Interagency Committee on School Construction, has said it favors a plan to remodel the 45-year-old building rather than construct a new $42 million school.

In May, the commission rejected the school system’s appeal for a share of state funds to build a new school after it earlier determined a renovation was the “most cost-effective solution.”

The school’s capacity is 377 students. However, that does not include 10 portable classrooms, which brought the student population of pre-kindergarten to fifth grade to 491 students for the 2017-2018 school year, according to the school’s profile. The first two portable classrooms were placed on the site in 2004, according to school spokesman Brian Bassett.

Kamen said a new estimate of the number of students who will attend Talbott Springs is “yet to be determined.”

Each year, the county does a study of current and projected student populations. The projected enrollment for the upcoming school year is 56,444 students, an additional 959 students from the 2017-2018 session, according to the study.

For Talbott Springs in the next school year, 458 students are projected to attend, one less from last year, according to the study.

The school system also needs “to clarify the apparent discrepancy” between enrollment projections and the intended new building, according to spokesperson from the state’s Department of Education. The state has also asked for more information about the “unusual” school boundaries, the neighborhoods served by the school.

The state also has asked for more information about a proposed foreign language immersion program to be based at Talbott Springs.

School board member Kirsten Coombs said that the language immersion program would be a first for the county if offered at Talbott Springs and students could be exposed and taught regularly in a specific language, such as Spanish, Mandarin and French.

Before any plans are sent to the state, the county school board has to approve them, according to Coombs. An architectural layout needs to be designed to reflect the projected lower student population. The school system had hoped to have a new building complete by 2021.

“I look forward to seeing the presentation and I look forward to seeing the replacement of that school,” Coombs said. “It’s a great community [with] great staff and it’s time for a new school there.”

Talbott Springs has been renovated twice in the past 18 years -- in 2000 and 2008.

While a spokesman for the county said it remains “optimistic” the state will help fund a new school, County Executive Allan Kittleman’s capital budget allocates $2.6 million “to start renovation-addition work.”

In April, Kittleman wrote a letter asking the state to reconsider funding for a new school.

“Our plan [is] to build a new building while students continue their education uninterrupted in the existing building,” Kittleman wrote in the letter.

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