Despite agreeing to build a new Waverley Elementary School the size of some high schools, a cluster of schools in Frederick County are still likely to be crowded.
After a conversation about using school space devolved into another discussion about countywide redistricting, the Board of Education voted to move forward with a $54 million project to tear down both Rock Creek School and Waverley Elementary School and build a new Waverley Elementary to accommodate more than 1,000 students.
“I don’t know what the word is. I’m sad, angry, frustrated that we’re forced to build an elementary school the size of most high schools in the country,” board member Ken Kerr said. “I hope this is the exception and not the rule.”
The project, which, at its earliest, would be completed for the 2022-2023 school year, has a nearly two-year timeline that would be broken down into three phases: demolishing Rock Creek and constructing stormwater management; building the replacement school; and demolishing the Waverley building and completing site work.
The board considered options brought forward by Marks Thomas Architects that included renovating and adding to the current schools, and replacement buildings — both of which included options for 725-student capacity and 1,019-student capacity. But it also devised its own potential plan to build a new building and save one of the standing buildings.
“I don’t like the idea of getting rid of two school buildings that are structurally sound,” board member Liz Barrett said.
Board members pitched potential uses for the second building such as expanding the Career and Technology Center or making it a prekindergarten center, but renovations needed to bring the building to occupancy standards would cost at least half what a replacement school will cost, Chief Operating Officer Paul Lebo said.
The building has had no systemic renovations in the last decade, and many systems are beyond their useful life span, Lebo said.
Temperatures in classrooms in the current building have been as high as 95 degrees, and caused classrooms to be moved to other parts of the building, Principal Jan Hollenbeck said.
Even with the added seats, schools on the west side of Frederick are still likely to be crammed. Initial projections estimate 991 more students moving into developments in the Orchard Grove, Butterfly Ridge, Hillcrest and Whittier Elementary attendance areas. None of those developments is in the Waverley attendance area, so it could lead to another redistricting study from the district.
Board members again advocated for a countywide redistricting plan, though no motion was made to pursue it. Several months ago, board member Mike Bunitsky tried to bring up countywide redistricting as an agenda item, and it was quickly moved to start a work group on the issue.
“And nothing has happened,” Bunitsky said.
Barrett, who also advocated looking at how to alleviate school crowding in certain parts of the county, added that the board consistently acts in a reactive fashion rather than coming up with proactive solutions.
“We are consistently running from behind,” Barrett said.
The Waverley project, as with all capital improvement projects, depends on funding, though Janice Spiegel, education liaison to County Executive Jan Gardner, said the county is aware of the need for capacity in that part of the project. She added that the funding challenge would likely come from the state, because the state funds only 70,000 square feet, Spiegel said. The new school would be about 130,000 square feet, according to the proposed designs.
The county has identified no other sites for potential schools in that part of the county. Spiegel indicated that keeping an extra building in that area could be beneficial as that area continues to grow, or the board should look at working with the city and county to identify more potential school sites.