Thursday, June 21, 2012

Capacity In the West

When I ended my previous post I said that perhaps it was time to close another School in the future. Yes that was a lead for a future post and yes it's time that in the Western part of Howard County it's time to close not one not two but three Schools in the coming years. The County over projected the amount if Schools needed in the West thinking that new development will yield the same large numbers that urbanized areas in the County will and have. As a result these projections have caused the County to overbuild some Schools and or build costly additions when all that was needed would have been portable classrooms for a few years until populations had leveled off. 
In addition to the rural west Columbia's River Hill Village has been yielding smaller numbers of School aged Children for quite some time. River Hill was built at a very fast pace which doesn't allow for good cycles of School Districts. For example in the Northfield School District the rate of homes built is staggered with homes old, new, and everything in between. This allows for some Neighborhoods not to have very many School Children and others to have a boom in the number of School Children while the School population doesn't drastically change, only the Neighborhoods in which they come from do. The Gray Rock Farms Neighborhood is yielding fewer while the Dunloggin Neighborhood is yielding more. In River Hill all the Homes were built within 10 years of each other so a few years ago all the Neighborhoods were yielding huge numbers of children while now just a moderate number and in a couple of years very few. This means that all these new and expanded Schools that serve River Hill will be grossly under capacity.
So what should have happened? I think enrollment trends should have been studied closer to see whether or not these large enrollment numbers were here to stay. New housing in the rural west has dropped off considerably as those relocating to Howard County prefer the more urbanized lifestyle that Columbia, Ellicott City, and Elkridge provide. In addition the west has gotten too expensive in this day and age and with Retail being so far away and gas being so expensive it would be a matter of time before home builders in Howard County began looking elsewhere and began building higher density homes outside of the rural west which is exactly what has happened. 

With all this knowledge it seems silly that the County felt the need to build not one but two new Schools with capacities of almost 800 Students each. I'm talking about Dayton Oaks and the Bushy Park of course. The net gain brought on by these two schools is a staggering 1176 Students as the old Bushy Park had a Capacity of 440. Dayton Oaks never should have been built, there I said it. Dayton Oaks opened in 2006 with barely 500 students leaving some classrooms empty as enrollment there has continued to decline. The two Schools its District was formed with (Clarksville and Tridelphia Ridge) although crowded at the time, would have leveled off in a couple of years giving each School optimal enrollment ratios. Also when Dayton Oaks opened why were Clarksville and Tridelphia Ridge given additions of 65- 70 seats each? Usually when a new School is built, existing Schools don't need additions because the need for them is wiped out once the new School opens. Clarksville even if its capacity was left at 565 instead of 634 would have probably been able to make do with its old district and then some had Dayton Oaks never happened. Clarksville still could have been available to assist Fulton this year when it was decided that it would relieve Hammond and Gorman Crossing in the southeast. 
  Not only was Dayton Oaks built but Bushy Park was replaced with a new building that was a twin of Dayton Oaks. Even when the new Bushy Park was in its planning stages there were some red flags that enrollment couldn't support a new School that large such as Kindergarten classes being smaller and enrollment at Lisbon shrinking. If these red flags were taking seriously perhaps Dayton Oaks (assuming it was built) could have provided short term relief to Bushy Park as could Lisbon considering that its capacity was upped from 434 to 553. The new Bushy Park opened in 2007 with a building close to twice its size yet there was no redistricting into the School. In fact its district has remained the same since Tridelphia Ridge opened in 1998. I guess it was assumed that Bushy Park despite its smaller Kindergarten classes and the drop of new building would continue to yield high numbers and continue to increase. Bushy Park has never come close to its capacity of 788 and just like Dayton Oaks it won't come close.

Given that both Dayton Oaks and Bushy Park are brand new they can't close despite every indication that building them was a mistake. However that doesn't make the fact that Western Howard County as a whole is grossly under populated when compared to the amount of seats in the region and that no amount of redistricting can make it otherwise unless Schools are closed. Obviously a big cause of this excess space; the big new Schools can't be closed but I can think of two older Schools that can be retired and as a result both Bushy Park and Dayton Oaks will absorb the population of one School each which will greatly reduce the excess space. 
 First there's West Friendship, opened in 1925 this is easily Howard County's oldest functioning School across the board. When Dayton Oaks opened in 2006 West Friendship's District was reduced with a big chunk now attending Tridelphia Ridge. As the past six years wore on, enrollment at West Friendship has been on a continuous decline with no end in sight. Bushy Park is set to dip below 600 next year and in a few years below 500 as well and with Bushy Park's capacity at 788 and West Friendship's enrollment barely 200 Bushy Park can absorb West Friendship easily bringing enrollment there at an acceptable level. West Friendship will close and can be used as a holding School for Schools undergoing large renovations (modernizations) and eventually as a satellite campus for Manor Woods. West Friendship can house grades 4 and 5 of the Manor Woods district as the Turf Valley Development will cause Manor Woods to outgrow its current campus.   
 The other Elementary School that's old and under populated is Clarksville. Clarksville opened in its current location in 1964 and whenever a new Elementary School has opened in that area Clarksville has had to redraw its population from somewhere else. Due to the sheer numbers of Schools that have opened in the west, Clarksville has run out of Neighborhoods to draw fom. It's not Clarksville's fault, it's just that too many Schools were buit in this region. In the coming years Clarksvile is projected to drop well below 300 Students despite a capacity of 634. Just like West Friendship, neighboring Schools don't have the population to the population redistrict into Clarksville. In order to keep newer Schools in the west open such as Dayton Oaks, Tridelphia Ridge, Pointers Run, and Bushy Park open Clarksville have to close. All of Clarksville will be absorbed by Dayton Oaks which is also slated to be less than half full. Dayton Oaks not only can support all of Clarksville but can it can still support the 2012 redistricting of the Highland area from Fulton. 
  In addition to Dayton Oaks allowing for Fulton to expand its district to the east, Pointers Run which is also slated to drop considerably will assist Fulton by redistricting large amounts of students there this coming School year. As part of my long standing commitment to modernizing older Schools I have introduced holding Schools as an option for Schools that require a large amount of work if not a total teardow. Faulkner Ridge will be one of the Schools which will leave the offices there homeless. I have introduced the idea of having Pointers Run fill that need by having a wing of the School walled off and dedicated to those offices. In order to reduce the capcacity of Pointers Run down to 556 from 776, I have redistricted the Clarksville Hunt Neighborhood into Clemens Crossing instead of Pointers Run. 
  In a similar move I have introduced that idea to Tridelphia Ridge which will wall off three classrooms to used as the "Benson Branch Community Center" which will complement the proposed Park of the same name across the street. This will bring the capacity of Tridelphia Ridge down to 478, from 544  its original capacity which is closer to current enrollment.   
 In addition to the 2 Elementary Schools I have slated for closure, I have included a Middle School as well. Its date will be pushed to 2015 instead of right away. The Middle School, although it was once very crowded is Clarksville Middle. Just like the Elementary Schools on its district the population will drop to just over 300 in the coming years. With a Capacity of 662 and having the oldest building when compared to other Middle Schools nearby, Clarksville is the best option. This time instead of one School absorbing the whole population, it will be divided into two. The Phesant Ridge area of River Hill will go to Folly Quarter as well as the Highland currently attending Lime Kiln. The area of Folly Quarter that goes to Glenelg will be redistricted to Glenwood. The Pointers Run area of River Hill will go to Lime Klin where space has opened due to the Highland area now going to Folly Quarter. Clarksville Middle will still function as a holding School the first School it would is Glenwood whose building has aged is due for a Modernization. 
 Although High Schools in the West will be well under capacity, no High Schools need to close.  There does need to be some redistricting in order to relieve crowding and have a viable population return to Schools that need more Students. The western edges of both Reservoir and Atholton will be redistricted to River Hill where enrollment is on the decline. There has been talk of moving the JROTC program out of Howard High due to crowding and the fact that Oakland Mills supports that program as well. With Marriotts Ridge being less populated than projected there has been talk of moving Howard's program there. I support that proposition as it will balance out enrollment across the board. This move will not however delete the need for a 13th High School in Elkridge.

As enrollment trends evolve to favor densely populated urbanized parts of Howard County, enrollment in the west was expected to drop off especially when considering that Schools were overbuilt when simply redistricting and adding portables would have taken care of the problem short term. Since this wasn't the case in order for Schools to function properly, some Schools will have to close to balance out enrollment and capacity.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice post, but it suffers from serious 20-20 hindsight. Development and population trends are notoriously hard to predict over long terms. For example, all of the newer schools you mention were approved/designed/built during the pre-2008 housing boom. Had that housing boom continued, the population of Western HoCo would have been much larger than it is, and those schools would have been noted. It was the 2008 housing bust that caused the sudden change in trends. And I don't think you can convince me that you or the school board should have seen that coming; those few people who saw that 2008 housing bust coming are now billionaires from their investment strategies.

Bottom line - making projections today for population 10 years from now is difficult, and you're going to be wrong. So, this is an interesting academic exercise, but I don't think anyone will be taking it seriously.

(We won't even get into what will happen when you start splitting current middle school populations into two, and parents start screaming that you're sentencing their children to the death penalty by changing their cohort. And yes, that does happen. :-( )