Building Butterfly Ridge Elementary School should be atop a too-long list of overdue school projects

EXCERPT: “Instead, however, the much-needed renovation or replacement of Frederick High School, had to wait, for decades! As so often has happened when planning for growth, the process doesn’t adequately account for building and maintaining our schools. Students and their families in older, long established communities have to deal with — and suffer with — old schools in serious need of renovation or replacement, while limited capital funds are invested to meet the needs generated by new development.

Students and families in the Hillcrest community should not have to wait decades, attending a badly overcrowded and a woefully inadequate school while the funding is directed to build another new school elsewhere.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: On Wednesday, September 9th, the Frederick County Board of Education held a Public Hearing on the 2015 Superintendent’s Recommended Educational Facilities Master Plan. This is an annual update of a ten year plan — a “blueprint” which establishes facility and funding priorities regarding new construction, as well as renovation and repair projects.

The hearing is over, but the decisions about the plan are yet to be made.

It would be an understatement to say that there are always more projects well worth funding than there are funds for them. Unfortunately, two Frederick County communities — Urbana and the west side of the City of Frederick — which have been advocating for much needed and long overdue projects to alleviate severe overcrowding, find themselves fighting to see their local projects advanced, while circumstances may make it necessary to delay one of them.

Envision Frederick County is not advocating for one over the other. And we are hopeful that the Board of Education may yet find a way to fund both Sugarloaf Elementary School (in Urbana) and Butterfly Ridge Elementary School (on Butterfly Lane, in the city).

Below is a commentary from a city resident, mother and former FCPS teacher who is currently a substitute teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School.


If Frederick County is compelled to make a difficult choice, and fund the construction one of the two most needed and overdue new schools before the other, I support making the construction of Butterfly Ridge Elementary School, in Hillcrest, our top priority, However, I do recognize the importance of building the new Sugarloaf Elementary School in Urbana.

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Since 1984, I have had several roles within Frederick County Public Schools. I was a classroom teacher at Urbana, Twin Ridge and Valley Elementary Schools. Now retired, I still serve as a substitute teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School. I’m also a parent and member of the PTSA/Boosters Club in the Frederick High feeder pattern. I have taught in both communities, and lived in one.

I love both the Urbana and the Hillcrest communities.

Based on the history of lagging construction and renovation in the Frederick High feeder pattern, however, it is clear to me that construction of Butterfly Ridge Elementary School should proceed first.

Frederick High School was back-burnered too long for renovations and, similarly, I do not want to see the Hillcrest community swept under the rug for decades.

Recently, I read a Frederick News Post article from January of 1991. In that article, Dr. Farmer, who was the school superintendent at the time, requested money for the renovation of Frederick High School.

That was almost twenty-five years ago! And, until this year, no changes have occurred.

For twelve of those years, I personally advocated for the long overdue renovation of Frederick High School.

Some people have complained about the high cost of renovating Frederick High School. But the truth is that if Frederick High School had been renovated in a timely manner, the costs would have been much lower, and we wouldn’t have to be dealing with it in the current major investment decisions we have to make today. Frederick High School should have been renovated when Urbana High School was built, when Tuscarora High School was built, when Governor Thomas Johnson High School was renovated, when Linganore High School was torn down and completely replaced, or when Oakdale High School was built.

Instead, however, the much-needed renovation or replacement of Frederick High School, had to wait, for decades! As so often has happened when planning for growth, this process doesn’t adequately account for building and maintaining our schools. Students and their families in older, long established communities have to deal with — and suffer with — old schools in serious need of renovation or replacement, while limited capital funds are invested to meet the needs generated by new development.

pixture_reloaded_logoStudents and families in the Hillcrest community should not have to wait decades, attending a badly overcrowded and woefully inadequate school while the funding is directed to build another new school elsewhere.

Experience has taught me to advocate for the Frederick High School feeder pattern students first and the rest will follow. I have great faith that the strong parent advocacy in the Urbana community will be able to rapidly advocate for their needs, even if Hillcrest goes first. Urbana has always had tremendous political clout.

Currently, Hillcrest’s facility needs are as great or greater than any one else’s needs. Hillcrest Elementary School houses 1,010 students with a building that was designed to support 760 students. Hillcrest Elementary has a larger population than some high schools in Frederick County.

As a substitute teacher, I have witnessed the significant drawbacks of having half of the school in portable classrooms. This drawback is most significant in terms of lost instructional time due to transitions in and out of the building. These transitions take longer because the students in portables are farther away from their destination and must swipe in and out of the building. If it is raining, the students and teachers often sit in class wet. Additionally, every time a student has to leave a portable, they must be with a buddy which automatically doubles the number of kids a teacher has leaving his/her lessons.

One more of the many additional problems is the inability to fit the entire community in the school for any kind of event.

The dedicated staff at Hillcrest Elementary School works very hard to encourage more parent participation. But their efforts are hampered by the fact that there is no way the entire community can come to a school event at one time.

Not even the gym is big enough. The students are rotated between the gym and a portable classroom for gym class. Again, losing precious time with the teachers.

Generally speaking, all logistics are more made more complicated and challenging because of the overcrowding, even including dropping off and picking up students.

If we have to start construction on one new elementary school before others, many of us who have been advocating believe that the problems and needs at Hillcrest are more substantial and significant, and should be addressed first. In addition, Hillcrest’s needs will be addressed in a single building project, unlike Urbana, which requires the construction of a new building and the renovation of Urbana Elementary.

Building Butterfly Ridge Elementary first makes sense will keep all three projects properly prioritized.

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Also see the following:

Frederick News Post
Gardner: Not enough money to keep Frederick County school construction on schedule
Thursday, August 27, 2015

Frederick News Post
Fight continues for which elementary school to be built first, Urbana or west Frederick
Saturday, September 5, 2015

Envision Frederick County
BOE president on Hillcrest/Urbana choice: “I will not pit one community against the other!”
by Brad Young (BOE President)
September 8, 2015

Envision Frederick County
Citizen to Council member Chmelik: Advocate for critical new school in your district
by Matt Seubert
September 5, 2015

Envision Frederick County
A very tired “mommy crusader” writes to the Board of Education
by Becca Neville Clark
September 4, 2015