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WCPS officials eye E. Russell Hicks for potential overcrowding

June 09, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • The Washington County Board of Education this week approved a list of major school construction priorities, but school officials pointed to areas that need to be watched closely, including a E. Russell Hicks Middle School which they say is likely to be overcrowded by 2012.
Herald-Mail file photo

The Washington County Board of Education this week approved a list of major school construction priorities, but school officials pointed to areas that need to be watched closely, including a middle school likely to be overcrowded by 2012.

"The middle school we need to watch is (E. Russell) Hicks at this point," Deputy Schools Superintendent Boyd Michael told the school board during a discussion Tuesday about the 2011 Educational Facilities Master Plan. "And it may at some point trigger some type of redistricting that we need to take a look at and look at available capacity in other middle schools."

The school system's Facilities and Enrollment Advisory Committee reviews enrollment and facility information to make recommendations on how to efficiently use school buildings. Michael said Wednesday that the panel reviews issues such as redistricting as part of its role, but has not been asked by the school board to conduct any official redistricting regarding middle schools.

Hicks, in Hagerstown's South End, had a Sept. 30, 2010, enrollment of 768 students. It is estimated that school will be overcrowded in the fall of 2012, with a projected enrollment of 814. The school's state-rated capacity is 797 students, according to the master plan.

The plan calls for an addition to and renovation of Hicks to be finished in 2023, although priorities in the plan change from year to year.

School board member Donna Brightman said she'd like to have the capacity of middle schools reviewed in the next year, before the board addresses the 2012 facilities master plan.

Brightman said Wednesday that thoughts of redistricting might be premature.

School system officials "may need to look at the middle schools and see if (they) need to be more proactive," she said.

While the middle schools aren't at state-rated capacity, several have open-space designs so, "functionally, I think middle schools are in trouble," Brightman said.

Michael said Wednesday that the school system staff would look into how space at the middle schools could be used more efficiently.

The facilities master plan, which the school system must submit to the state by July 1, becomes the basis of the capital improvement plan, which the school system uses to determine how much school construction money to request in the fall from the state and county.

The master plan is revised and approved annually so projects can move up, down, or off the list based on a variety of factors, including enrollment pressures, school building needs and available funding.



Top priorities

Opening the new Ruth Ann Monroe Primary School, replacing Bester Elementary and building a new "West City" elementary school are the top three major construction priorities for Washington County Public Schools on  the list approved Tuesday.

Board Vice President W. Edward Forrest said he wants an eye kept on Sharpsburg Elementary, which is slated for renovation and expansion in several years.

In a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon, Forrest said he thought officials should consider building a bigger Sharpsburg elementary school at another location in that area.

A new Sharpsburg elementary could address overcrowding at Sharpsburg and Boonsboro elementary schools and would eliminate the need to renovate and expand the existing Sharpsburg school, he said.

Sharpsburg Elementary opened in 1936 and had additions and renovations in 1967 and 1983, according to the master plan.

Remaining fourth on the list, which was discussed at a May 17 work session, is phase 1 of a new "South County" elementary school.

The schedule for the south county project has been moved back two years because enrollment growth slowed, Rob Rollins, the school system's director of facilities planning and development, has said.



High school concerns

Fifth on the master plan list is a new "East City" high school.

Board member Paul Bailey, who expressed concern about the high schools, asked if the plan was to address enrollment pressures with portable classrooms until a new high school could be built.

Michael said the school system shifted some portables from elementary schools to high schools.

To get the most state funding it can for the new high school, the school system has to show it could fill a new high school within seven years, officials said.

So there will be a lot of pressure on area high schools until enrollment estimates meet that target, Michael said.

"It's not an ideal situation, but one that is very common across the state," Michael said.

Priority list

The following is the list of school construction priorities approved Tuesday by the Washington County Board of Education:

  • Ruth Ann Monroe Primary school, at the corner of Yale Drive and Mount Aetna Road, is scheduled to open in August. In the fall, the school system is expected to ask the state for about $2.75 million to finish paying for the school's construction.
  • Replacing Bester Elementary School in Hagerstown's South End. The school is scheduled to open in August 2014.
  • A new "West City" elementary school that would consolidate the student populations at Winter Street Elementary in Hagerstown's West End and Conococheague Elementary, west of Hagerstown. Scheduled to open in 2016.
  • Phase 1 of a new "South County" elementary. Scheduled to open in 2017.
  • A new "East City" high school scheduled to open in August 2020, a year later than previously planned.
  • Modernizing Sharpsburg Elementary. The work would be completed in 2019.
  • Building an addition onto the new "South County" elementary. Scheduled to be finished in 2020.
  • Modernizing Boonsboro High School. Scheduled to be finished in 2022.
  • Modernizing Fountaindale Elementary School in Hagerstown's North End. Scheduled to be finished in 2022.
  • An addition to and renovation of E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown's South End. Scheduled to be finished in 2023.
  • A new "North County" elementary school, scheduled to open in 2023.

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