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Ways to curb school crowding considered

October 26, 2005|By KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

A Frederick County (Md.) Public Schools' process for working with developers to build new facilities could become the Washington County Board of Education's model for dealing with growth in overcapacity areas.

In a Tuesday work session with Washington County Commissioner James F. Kercheval, the board talked about ways to work with developers in areas where school overcrowding could put the brakes on growth.

The board could vote on the first of two motions for a new policy dealing with growth as early as Nov. 1, said board member W. Edward Forrest, who sits on the policy committee.

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The commissioners are working on amending the county's adequate public facilities ordinance, which sets limits on development in areas where public services are stretched. According to the ordinance, the thresholds for overcrowding in schools are 85 percent of the state-rated capacity for elementary schools and 100 percent of the state-rated capacity for secondary schools.

School system Chief Operating Officer G. William Blum presented the board with a Frederick County policy he said could be a model for negotiations when developers are interested in building in areas that do not meet the standards of the ordinance. The plan could force developers to help resolve existing and projected problems of overcrowding before they could move forward with their building plans.

While houses can go up in a matter of months, school construction takes years, and capacity can lag behind student projections. Without the ability to deal with capacity concerns first, Blum said the Board of Education will become "a conduit for developers."

In the meantime, board member Roxanne R. Ober said the school system might have to increase class sizes, look at turning alternative spaces into classrooms or redistrict schools to deal with overcrowding. She said she is concerned the system's building plans do not put enough emphasis on the need for more room at the secondary-school level, and she asked Kercheval how the county would balance the need for new buildings with demands on old facilities.

Kercheval acknowledged the school system would be in a period of transition while new facilities are planned and built.

"We're going to have some growing pains over the next couple years," Kercheval said.

According to Kercheval, one of the challenges in the process is the fact that the county's ordinance is enforceable only in areas outside municipalities. Boonsboro has adopted its own APFO, and the Hagerstown City Council is working on crafting one, he said.

Last year, about 47 percent of building permits were granted for construction in areas outside the county's jurisdiction, Kercheval said.

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