A Baldwin piano and some shop equipment were among the items that went on the auction block last weekend -- remnants of Northwood High School, which closed last year.

Yet the shrill debate over the decision to close the school still rages as Montgomery County planners seek the best use for the 29-year-old building and its 30-acre site on University Boulevard.

Northwood community leaders contend the school system made a mistake in closing their school and predict Northwood will have to be reopened as high school enrollments begin to climb in the next decade.

They pitched that argument to school board officials without any luck.

At a meeting last week, county Planning Board members considered requests from 14 county groups and nonprofit organizations to lease the school. Their first choice is to let various community groups use the school, to avoid permanently changing the structure.

"That doesn't mean they expect it to be reopened as a school , but they didn't foreclose that option in case it's needed in the future," said Pat Hare, a planning assistant.

Hare said the Planning Board's second choice is to have the land used for housing for the elderly but, if possible, to save the school's gyms and auditorium for community use.

The Planning Board's job is to look at all proposals to reuse a closed school and then make recommendations to the County Council, which narrows the list of uses. The county executive will pick a final candidate to use the property.

The Planning Board's recommendations are expected to go to the council in about a week.

Some Planning Board members say it is only a matter of time before Northwood becomes a high school again.

"I have felt all along it was a grave error to close the school, and I do feel it will be needed," said Mable Granke, a Planning Board member.

"My own hunch is that we ought to preserve the opportunity to reopen the school," said board member Richmond M. Keeney.

Keeney, Granke and several other Planning Board members listened several weeks ago to the enrollment projections of David Kaplan, an electronics professor who used to teach at Northwood.

Kaplan is vice president of Allied Civic Groups, a Northwood community group that appealed the local school board's decision to close Northwood to the State Board of Education.

He has spent the last three years studying high school enrollments in the Northwood area, designated Area 1, and has some strong ideas about the decision to close Northwood. "It was wrong to close a high school and overcrowd others," he said.

Kaplan claims school officials' projections for growth in the Northwood area are too low. But officials discount Kaplan's figures, which are based on county census information and school information, saying they are too high.

Although Kaplan and school officials predict a decline in high school enrollments before 1990 and agree they will begin to climb again in 1995, school officials predict a much slower rate of growth than Kaplan.

"If you project only to 1990, then the supposition that there won't be a need for those classrooms at Northwood is fairly accurate," Granke said. "But after 1995 . . . that's when it begins to get fuzzy."

For example, Kaplan predicts that six high schools in Area 1, Blair, Einstein, Kennedy, Paint Branch, Springbrook and Wheaton, will be at 97 percent capacity by 1990. Kaplan excludes Sherwood High School from his estimates because, he says, it is too far from the other schools.

But figures from the school system's Department of Facilities Planning show that the seven high schools in Area 1 will be at 90 percent capacity by 1990. And while school officials predict there will be 6,074 students at Blair, Einstein, Kennedy and Paint Branch by 1990, Kaplan predicts there will be 793 more than that.

By 1995, Kaplan predicts, students attending those four schools will number 905 more than the school system's projection of 7,147 students.

Because of the differences between the school system's projections and Kaplan's predictions, several school board members decided to reconsider their decisions to close Northwood.

Two board members, Sharon DiFonzo and Jeremiah Floyd, voted against closing the school earlier this year after listening to Kaplan's statistics and the arguments of other civic leaders.

"I didn't say don't close the school building, just not at this time," DiFonzo said. "I wanted to wait and see what was happening to see if we were heading in Montgomery County public schools' projections or in Kaplan's."

If Kaplan's statistics are not enough to shed doubt on school system projections, a school report released a month after the board voted to close Northwood seemed prophetic. It said the transfer of Northwood students to three other area high schools would create "acute" crowding this fall. "I don't know if that information had been available before the vote if that would have changed anybody's mind," DiFonzo said.

School officials have handled the crowding at the Area 1 high schools by setting up portable classrooms.

About 60 schools have been closed countywide since the 1970s because of declining enrollments, but in recent years student enrollment has once again started to grow as the children of "baby boomers" begin to enter elementary schools.

The original decision to close Northwood was made in 1981 when the school board was trying to cut costs and was facing problems of declining enrollments. Since that time, school board members have reviewed the decision annually, each time agreeing to close the school.

Board president Bob Schoenberg said he believes that the decision to close Northwood was right.

"I think the school board, once it has made its decision, doesn't spend a lot of time talking about it," he said.

Schoenberg said he based his decision partly on school officials' predictions that Northwood and Einstein high schools would be down to about 850 students by 1989, too small for a high-quality, comprehensive school program. Ideally, he said, a high school should have 1,200 students.

Another concern was the cost to renovate the school. School officials estimated that a major renovation would cost $10 million; county planners say it will cost about $5.4 million to repair the building's roof and heating, cooling and electrical systems.

DiFonzo said only time will tell if the board made the right choice in closing Northwood.

"I hope that my decision to not close Northwood was wrong," she said. "I didn't agree with the board's decision, but that was our stand and I hope we don't live to regret it."