Patty Kettlestrings, a Frederick resident and a mother of two Parkway Elementary School students, had heard a lot about the pressing need for renovations at the 73-year-old Frederick High School.
And yet, when she toured Frederick and Tuscarora high schools on Wednesday, Kettlestrings was surprised to see how dark, tight and outdated the interior of Frederick High really is, especially when compared to a modern school.
“It’s a maze,” said Kettlestrings, who toured the schools with her husband and two sons.
After years of piecemeal additions, the dimly-lit hallways inside Frederick High no longer follow a logical pattern or flow. The air conditioning is patchy, so students have to dress in layers and be prepared to sit in a sweltering or freezing classroom. The cafeteria is tiny and gets so crowded that lunch is served in four shifts, students told the Kettlestrings during their tour.
With its improvised computer labs, walk-through classrooms, mismatched lockers and shabby auditorium, Frederick High stood out in stark contrast to Tuscarora High, which was built in 2003.
Originally Tuscarora High was constructed for 1,200 students and cost $42 million, but in 2007 a developer paid $12 million for a 400-seat addition to the school, according to Ray Barnes, the school system facilities director.
Like most of the new schools in the system, Tuscarora was built with a roomy gym and cafeteria, specialized science classrooms equipped with individual sinks, thoughtfully designed computer labs and sleek, brightly lit hallways.
“The hallways here are about twice as wide,” said Kettlestrings as her family toured Tuscarora High. “Frederick High School is so much tighter and darker.”
The Kettlestrings were among two county families that took the school system up on its offer and toured the two buildings.
School officials did not expect too many people to attend the tour, school facilities planner Beth Pasierb said. It was organized because a few residents had requested to see how the features of Frederick High compare to those of a modern high school, she said.
With both of their children attending a school within the Frederick High feeder system, the Kettlestrings said they were curious to see what the high school actually looked like on the inside. They were all surprised by the school’s interior.
“It’s just big and labyrinth-y,” said Paul Kettlestrings, a third-grader at Parkway Elementary.
Pasierb said the tour was a part of the ongoing feasibility study that is the first step in the renovation of the school.
Since the study started this fall, school system officials have been asking the public for comments and ideas for the renovation.
School officials now hope to begin designing the $80 million project in 2013 and start construction in 2015. The new school is expected to open in the fall of 2017 but that would depend on whether the Frederick County Board of Commissioners keeps the project on track for funding when it approves the fiscal 2014-19 Capital Improvement Program next June.
Officials now are moving toward the second stage of the study, when they will announce the possible options for the renovation of the school. The options — which could include partial renovations or razing and rebuilding the entire structure — are being finalized and will be unveiled in a series of public meetings.
School officials are planning two meetings for faculty and alumni on Monday, followed by a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at West Frederick Middle School, school system spokesman Michael Doerrer said. The options will also be presented to the public at a Nov. 27 meeting at Hillcrest Elementary School in Frederick.
Once the options are presented, it will be up to the Frederick County Board of Education to select a final plan for the modernization project.
Ricky Kelley, a senior and the president of the Frederick High School Student Government Association, was one of the student ambassadors who stayed after school to assist visitors with the tour on Wednesday.
Kelley told the Kettlestrings that he would prefer the school system to renovate the school in a way that preserves its historic 1939 facade. Although such a renovation could mean longer construction time, it would be worth it in the long term, according to Kelley who was a student at West Frederick Middle during its two-year modernization.
“I feel like going through this sacrifice was worth it in the end,” he said. “This school has had its share of bad renovation — we need to do it right this time.”