Support grows for building new Frederick High School -- Gazette.Net



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While taking a test at Frederick High School recently, senior Ricky Kelley said he was distracted by sounds of a lecture in the room next door and chatter from another classroom that grew louder as students worked on a project together.

“It’s really distracting to be able to hear everything going on around you,” said Kelley, 17, who is president of the school’s Student Government Association.

Public hearing

What: Public hearing on options for Frederick High School construction

When: 7 p.m., Jan. 23

Where: Frederick County Public Schools headquarters, 191 S. East St., Frederick

The school’s outdated open-classroom design is one of a slew of reasons that he and others say Frederick High School needs a new building.

The student group has thrown its support behind one of six options being considered by the Frederick County Board of Education.

That option — which also has been favored by some school board members, a steering committee, the Frederick High PTSA and community groups — calls for a new Frederick High building on the existing parking lot, while students continue to attend school in the current building during construction.

The replacement would cost about $84.9 million and take two years to build after design and permitting is complete. Estimates are that construction would be completed by about 2017.

The seven-member board will hold a public hearing to discuss the options at 7 p.m. on Jan. 23 at its headquarters, at 191 S. East St., in Frederick, and is expected to make a decision on Feb. 6.

Built in 1939, Frederick High School, at 650 Carroll Parkway in Frederick, is the oldest public high school in the county.

The school, which shares a 43.4-acre site with West Frederick Middle School, currently has about 1,340 students and a capacity for 1,603.

The building’s age presents problems with heating and cooling, as well as in offering adequate technology and safely moving students around the building, officials said.

Other proposals presented by GWWO Inc., Architects, the Baltimore-based firm tasked with studying options for the site, include rehabilitating rather than replacing the school; demolishing the existing school before beginning construction on the new facility; and replacing the school where the current athletic fields are.

Each option presented was included with or without a swimming pool. The school is one of three in the county with a pool, including Middletown and Walkersville high schools.

Because Frederick County Public Schools officials say the state will not pay for the new school to have a pool, estimated at about $5 million, they are examining other options, such as working with Frederick city, Frederick County or a third party to help pay for the facility.

On Tuesday, city and county officials told board members they would discuss the possibility of a partnership.

Schools Superintendent Theresa Alban said she already has sought support from the Frederick County YMCA and other groups.

However, partnering with the government and outside groups drew some questions regarding students’ safety and cost.

“I’m just really looking for an option that is the most cost-effective and, of course, the option that meets students’ needs,” board Vice President Joy Schaefer said.

She said the proposal to keep Frederick High open to students while building a new school on the same site appeared to be the least disruptive to students.

However, Schaefer said she remains concerned about issues such as traffic, safety and debris during construction.

Jana Sheffer, president of the PTSA at Frederick High, said her group supports the same option, which would also allow the school to maintain its current proximity to Culler Lake.

The group also sought to keep students in their building while a new school is being built.

Some options presented by the architect would have divided Frederick High students by grade level to be moved to other county schools while the new facility was under construction.

The community near Frederick High, including the Westbrook area, supports the same plan as Sheffer’s group, according to John Amann, coordinator of Neighborhood Advisory Council 9, which includes the high school area.

Under that option, Amann said the students do not have to relocate and the school remains as far away from nearby homes as possible.

One proposal would have placed the school at the far back property line of the existing site, directly adjacent to homes along Kline Boulevard.

“Having the building kind of literally blocking the sun wasn’t something we were too excited about,” Amann said.

Sheffer said a new Frederick High has been a long time coming.

The school has needed renovations for years, but was passed over in favor of building new schools to handle additional growth in the county, she said.

Now, the county is trying to catch up with the needs of the older schools in downtown Frederick, having recently completed work at West Frederick Middle and Lincoln Elementary schools.

An addition to North Frederick Middle School is also expected to be completed in 2014.

“This school is old, and it’s falling apart,” Sheffer said of Frederick High. “It’s a safety issue, and it’s just a fairness issue.”

Frederick High has only a few classrooms set up with interactive whiteboards that have become commonplace in other more modern schools, Kelly said.

And in the computer labs, the technology is extremely slow, he said.

“Even with the technology, a lot of the computer labs weren’t built to be computer labs,” he said. “It gets hot.”

ecunningham@gazette.net