Charles County will need a new high school and another middle school in the next five years to accommodate its swelling enrollments, according to the capital improvements plan presented by school administrators to the Board of Education this week.
If state education officials endorse the plan upon presentation in October, the county will buy a tract of land in Waldorf for the two schools. After the upper grade facilities are operating, the county would then build an elementary school on the same site, Schools Superintendent James E. Richmond said.
The plan reviewed by the Board of Education on Tuesday also outlines construction and renovation projects scheduled after 2001.
The school system plans to request nearly $7 million in county funds to buy at least 150 acres of land in Waldorf, west of Route 301. Placing the three schools on one site would be simpler than trying to buy three smaller tracts of land, Richmond said.
Most of the building requests are driven by the county's growing population of students. All three Southern Maryland school districts are in the process of developing and refining their capital improvements plans.
In Charles, incoming students have tended to cluster in a development district designated by planning officials in the northern third of the county. Crowding has become a fact of life in places such as Waldorf, where student numbers have outstripped school capacity.
In recent years, Charles typically has favored redistricting as the way to alleviate school crowding. The school system is projecting that schools serving the development district will continue to experience increasing enrollments and crowding. School officials have not determined this year's official enrollment but the daily head count of students on Tuesday found 22,728 students in Charles schools, 465 more than last year.
Now, Richmond said, there's little else the county can do than build new schools. He said he does not want to expand any of the county's five existing high schools because a high school with more than 1,800 students is unacceptable. "I'm opposed to that," he said. "We will continue renovations because [the schools] need it, but we need a high school that deals with the growth of the development district."
The proposed high school, which the plan projects would cost more than $39 million to build, would offer students traditional high school programs along with full-time career and technology instruction. Currently, students can take a half-day of classes at the Charles County Career and Technology Center in Pomfret and then return to their regular high school.
A full-time career and technology program would reduce the costs of busing the students back and forth from their regular school and offer a more stable learning environment, Richmond said. "The kids are there all day. They feel an allegiance to the school," he said.
The high school would accommodate as many as 1,400 students. If the plan is approved, the current career and technology center buildings would be converted for other uses.
"Our old center, though it served us well, is outdated," Richmond said. "To renovate that for modern programs wouldn't be worth the effort."
The proposed middle school would have a capacity of 750 students and a price tag of more than $14 million. The school system plans to ask the state for construction approval for the high school and middle school projects in 2003, but has not yet created a schedule for a future elementary school.
According to the plan, the schools would be the centerpieces of a campus also intended for community use. A library, community center, athletic fields and even a planetarium would be included and open to the public.
"We can create . . . a center that would respond to school needs and community needs," Richmond said.