By Mallory Panuska, Frederick News Post
Friday, March 30, 2018
With leather reclining chairs and alcoholic beverages to boot, a portion of the long-shuttered Frederick Towne Mall site could become the next destination spot for watching the latest new releases.
Representatives of a Hagerstown-based company announced Thursday they are leasing the east side portion of the property from owners West Frederick Center LLLP for development of a Warehouse Cinemas premium movie theater.
The company is a venture of Hagerstown-based HighRock Group, and representatives boast amenities that include first-run movies and reclining leather seats in a modern-industrial decor with a variety of food and drink options, including beer, wine and specialty drinks.
“Obviously, we’re excited,” Mayor Michael O’Connor said Thursday of the new project. “Our residents have been waiting for a long time to see something happen with that property, and after a couple of false starts, the new owners have apparently made contact with somebody who is signing on the lease.”
West Frederick Center LLLP, a limited liability limited partnership company that formed in January, bought the 37.35-acre site at 1301 W. Patrick St. in mid-February for $6 million. Frederick urologist Dr. Mohammed Mohiuddin is listed as the resident agent of the company.
The mall was once the hub of the busy and vibrant Golden Mile but has sat vacant since 2013. The property went on the market in September 2016 after plans to construct a four-building shopping center with a 155,000-square-foot Walmart anchor store fell through.
The theater is set to take up only a portion of the mall property, and O’Connor said he is unsure if any prospective tenants are eyeing the rest of the space.
According to a news release from HighRock issued Thursday, full renovations are planned for the interior and a “major overhaul” is slated for the exterior of the property to accommodate the new project.
The company did not have a timeline for the theater project’s completion Thursday, but a news release said an opening is planned for sometime in 2018. Greg Mills, the chief operating officer of HighRock Group, declined to comment further via email Thursday on the lease details.
Warehouse Cinemas operates a similar theater outside of Hagerstown, but the company plans to make the Frederick location its “flagship” property, according to its website. The website also includes a virtual tour of what the inside is set to look like.
Richard Griffin, the city’s director of economic development, said Thursday the planned theater is a perfect fit for the site, especially since it is set for development at the site of the former Hoyt’s Frederick Towne Mall Cinema 10 that was part of the old mall.
“The Golden Mile remains one of the strongest retail corridors in the city with more than 50,000 vehicle trips going past most of those retail sites every day, and the opportunity for both the developer and new retail business to come into the Golden Mile is just an outstanding opportunity,” he said. “We are delighted to see entertainment as a component of the retail experience to help both strengthen and stabilize the mall location. Considering it was a theater before [and] it’s going to be a theater again, that’s a great reuse of the property.”
Deb Reynolds, co-president of the Golden Mile Alliance, also commented on the new project Thursday on behalf of the organization’s board.
“I can speak for the whole board of directors and say we are very, very happy,” she said. “I think it’s going to make a great addition to the [Golden Mile] and the whole city in general.”
She added that she is excited to see a tenant bringing an entertainment venue, as she expects it will attract patrons from the wider region. She also hopes it will serve as the catalyst to attract more tenants.
Griffin said he plans to work closely with the new tenant on any permitting or other assistance needed as the company works through renovations.
“Anytime you do adaptive reuse at an old space, there is going to be upgrading utilities, water and sewer, upgrading electric, installing new signage and facade improvements, maybe parking lot improvements, a number of different permits,” he said.
Tony Checchia, a broker and the owner of Verita Real Estate, spent months working with the tenant on the lease and said via email Thursday that he is still working with the mall owner to submit a proposal for the rear portion of the property where the Ollie’s building sits for a potential site for the new Frederick Police Department headquarters. A task force developed a Request for Information for site options for the headquarters that went out to the public in January and the deadline to submit responses is Friday. Checchia said he planned to submit a proposal before the deadline.
By Mallory Panuska, Frederick News Post
Sunday, February 11, 2018
As members of the Westside Regional Park Task Force sift through options for developing the bulk of the Hargett Farm space into a multi-use recreational spot, other details of development are coming together on the side.
On Wednesday, the Board of Aldermen discussed a request to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the National Park Service to use space on the 130-acre, city-owned site for vehicle, equipment and materials storage in exchange for providing repairs and maintenance for the building and grounds. Park Service officials would also provide a presence at the property and help facilitate future growth and activity on the parkland through public outreach and educational opportunities as part of the working agreement.
The aldermen briefly discussed some of the details of the agreement and unofficially signed off on it. They will vote on it at an upcoming public hearing.
Members of the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission are also set to discuss the document at their next meeting on Tuesday.
And on Monday, the city’s Planning Commission is set to get into the Westside Regional Park action with two other requests. One is a request to approve a final site plan for construction of three parking lots on the site as part of the realignment of Butterfly Lane. The other is a request to approve a preliminary forest conservation plan associated with that site plan.
The realignment of Butterfly Lane is the first step toward development of the property. The Board of Aldermen approved $2 million in the current budget for construction costs associated with the road project. In August, the board approved a design contract to begin the work, which is set to commence in the summer.
Plans for the amenities in the park are still in the works.
In the beginning of 2017, the board approved a concept plan that sectioned off areas of the site and listed facilities, amenities and infrastructure that could go in each. Shortly after the plan approval, the Westside Regional Park Task Force was formed to research the details and narrow down the options.
In the fall, members of the task force and Parks and Recreation Commission both respectively gave positive recommendations for a request to construct a memorial playground on an area of the future park tentatively slated as the “Festival Area,” which is adjacent to Butterfly Lane just east of farm structures on-site.
Sophie & Madigan’s Playground will pay homage to the memory of young sisters Sophie and Madigan Lillard, who passed away five years ago in a fire at their Myersville home. Sophie was 6 and Madison was 3.
Shortly after the tragic event, their family members created a nonprofit group called Sophie & Madigan’s Playground to raise money for a playground to honor the girls.
Bob Smith, the city’s deputy director of parks and recreation, said officials are working on a memorandum of understanding between the city and the nonprofit for construction of the playground at the park. Once the document is finished, the Board of Aldermen will discuss it at a workshop and eventually vote on it at a public hearing.
If all goes as expected, dirt should begin moving on the playground in the summer.
By Katherine Heerbrandt, TheFrederickExtra.com
Monday, December 4, 2017
Get ready for some big news about the former Frederick Towne Mall. Representing a group of investors, local realtor and broker Tony Checchia promises a topnotch recreation/entertainment venue as soon as the ink dries. As for the reveal, Checchia is bound by a nondisclosure agreement until the paperwork’s in order, but called the coming attraction “a gamechanger.”
“I can tell you personally, from the perspective of a city resident, that I am extremely excited about what we are bringing to the mall,” he said. “It would be a game changer, and is a very compatible use with the facility.”
Checchia, owner and broker at VCRE-x.com (Verita Real Estate) hopes to share the details about the project in the coming weeks. The group has a letter of intent, and Checchia said the move is a direct landlord to tenant negotiation. He did share that the proposal is one that developers are heavily invested in, and one that the community will embrace.
The Frederick Towne Mall was sold to Dr. Mohammad Mohuiddin, a Frederick-based urologist, and other investors for “$6 million plus,” according to the seller’s attorney, David Severn.
The 38-acre property on West Patrick Street went out for bid on an online auction site in December 2016, with a minimum bid of $2.5 million. The owner, Rockwell Capital of White Plains, N.Y. purchased the property in 2007. The City of Frederick approved permits, with zoning conditions attached, for a Wal-Mart store, but Wal-Mart backed out last fall. Wal-Mart opened a super store on Rt. 26 in Frederick last month.
Checchia’s also got an offer for the newly-elected mayor and board regarding a site for a new Frederick Police headquarters. The strip of former stores abutting the Frederick Towne Mall, including Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and a church, has the requisite space to accommodate a 40,000 – 50,000 sq.ft city police headquarters. “I personally feel that it is an economically feasible option that would be tremendous stabilizing for the entire west end of the community,” he said.
The selection of a site for a new police headquarters has been in the works for over a decade. A task force is reviewing past studies and should have recommendations for a request for information by January or February, according to Mayor-elect Michael O’Connor (D.) Although the city’s comprehensive plan calls for a downtown location, O’Connor said he “appreciates and would love to see a more sustained presence on west side.”
By Mallory Panuska, Frederick News Post
Thursday, November 16, 2017
The latest proposal for 60 acres of the vacant Hargett Farm property is a fully managed and leased 95,000-square-foot swim and sports center and 10-field artificial turf complex.
The proposal, which would cost an estimated $32 million of city money, is one of several options that members of the Westside Regional Park Task Force will consider as they research the best recommendation for the future multi-use park on the roughly 150-acre site along Butterfly Lane.
John Wack, president of Virginia-based Eastern Sports Management, presented details of the proposal to task force members at a meeting Wednesday.
The company develops and manages sports properties along the East Coast, including the Jeff Rouse Swim and Sport Center in Stafford County, Virginia, where subcommittee members are set to conduct a site visit Dec. 1.
Bob Smith, the city’s deputy director of parks and recreation, said the group is in the exploratory phase and considering all options for the park, from development details to funding.
“We are completely open,” Smith said after the meeting. “The task force is exploring all options. … The primary objective is to explore different relationships we could find.”
The task force formed in the spring with a mission to tackle a series of goals, which include completing the park’s design and engineering, overseeing implementation of the approved bubble plan and developing design standards for the park. At the close of their research, group members will make a recommendation to the mayor and Board of Aldermen.
The park is set to come to fruition with both public and private dollars with varying options on the table in terms of management and amenities.
In January, the sitting Board of Aldermen passed a $98.5 million “bubble plan” for the park. The plan includes sections, or bubbles, for amenities such as open space, walking and running trails, sports fields, picnic areas, gardens, playgrounds, picnic pavilions, an indoor pool and a water park. Wack’s proposal is for 60 acres of the total property, which task force members said provides flexibility for the rest of the land. Wack also presented details of other projects the company has completed with a variety of business models. The preferred model for the Hargett Farm property, Wack said, is for the company to design, construct and operate the facilities. The total estimated $35 million construction cost would come primarily from the city, with the company chipping in about $3 million. When construction is completed, Eastern Sports Management would sell the building and field complex back to the city and lease it back for 20 years to operate with rent defined as a split of net cash.
Members questioned Wednesday why the $35 million price is so much lower than the $98.5 million bubble plan cost. Zack Kershner, the city’s director of public works, said the bubble plan includes more amenities such as a stadium, water park, and Department of Public Works maintenance building. The estimate also includes money for internal road construction and for adaptive reuse of historic buildings on the site.
Smith said the task force is also looking into partnering with the Maryland Stadium Authority for funding help on the project. He said other plans and options will also become part of the research materials as the task force continues its mission.
The group was initially given a year to come up with a recommendation, but Smith said Wednesday that members will likely meet for longer than that.
Wednesday’s meeting was the last of the year, with the next meeting set Jan. 17.
By Ryan Marshall, Frederick News Post
Thursday, May, 25, 2017
Frederick’s Golden Mile has a diverse range of dining options, and the area will add another on Friday with the long-awaited opening of the Hmart international grocery store.
The store’s grand opening is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m., with Maryland first lady Yumi Hogan and other officials expected to attend.
The store will offer more than 55,000 square feet of Asian and other international food, a bakery, prepared foods, and a food court with various styles of cuisine.
On Wednesday, workers hurried to make final preparations for the opening, stocking shelves and refrigerated cases with kimchi and other items, and chopping salmon to make sushi. Nearby, water gurgled in a tank holding live lobsters.
The store in the Westridge Square Shopping Center will employ about 70 people, spokeswoman Janet Huang said in an email.
Since beginning in New York in 1982, Hmart has more than 90 stores in 13 states, including locations in Catonsville, Ellicott City, Gaithersburg and Wheaton.
In a big shopping center, a grocery store is often the key anchor, said Richard Griffin, the city of Frederick’s director of economic development.
The Golden Mile area is one of the largest concentrations of retail space in the county, and has traditionally been one of the most commercially successful, he said.
He expects that Hmart’s presence will make a huge difference for other tenants in the center.
The store was originally a Giant supermarket, then was the ethnic grocery Gmart, but the location has been vacant for several years, Griffin said.
Gmart opened in September 2013 and closed in November 2014.
Any shopping center needs a solid anchor, and Westridge hasn’t really had one since Giant left in 2011, said Steve Chung, the owner of Westridge Liquors, which is also in the shopping center.
He hopes that Hmart will bring in more foot traffic, but said he’ll wait and see.
Deb Reynolds, president of the Golden Mile Alliance, said she thinks Hmart is the largest business to open on the Golden Mile in several years.
The site can draw a lot of foot traffic from the neighborhoods around the shopping center, she said.
Hmart’s selection can serve the diverse population that lives in the communities along the Golden Mile, and is a great chance to draw more market share to the area, Griffin said.
People from Frederick have had to go to Montgomery County to get some types of food, and the Hmart store provides a chance to keep that money in Frederick County, he said.
Reynolds agreed that the Hmart may serve a clientele that hasn’t had many options in Frederick.
“I just think this brings maybe a twist to the traditional grocery store,” she said.
Elizabeth Chung, executive director of the Asian American Center of Frederick, said the county’s Asian community is looking forward to the store’s arrival.
Chung goes to the Hmart store in Gaithersburg several times a month for fresh seafood, and for spices and other things that can be difficult to find in traditional supermarkets.
Food and cooking are important parts of Chinese and other Asian cultures, Chung said, and an authentic ethnic grocery store can be a great comfort to people who miss their native country.
“Just the fact that you feel like home is very important,” she said.
By Mallory Panuska, Frederick News Post
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Frederick’s Westside Regional Park is inching closer to reality, with a second task force meeting out of the way and $2 million for construction set for approval Thursday in the city’s fiscal 2018 budget.
The future multi-use recreational facility is slated for a large tract of vacant farmland along Butterfly Lane known as Hargett Farm. City officials spent $18 million in 2009 to purchase the farm and have been paying $1.5 million annually on the debt service.
The Board of Aldermen is set Thursday to approve $2 million in the fiscal 2018 capital spending plan for park construction. If approved, the funds would be the city’s first major investment into the project’s development since the purchase of the farm.
The park’s price tag was nearly $100 million at conception, but members of an ad hoc task force are working to determine exactly what will go in it and how much it will cost. Officials hope to use both public and private funds to pay for it.
The $2 million is set to pay for construction of an internal access road into the park. Zack Kershner, the city’s director of public works, said Wednesday that the money is already included in the budget to pay for design of the access road and for realignment of nearby Butterfly Lane to support the project. Kershner said the request for proposals for design of both roads went out last week. He expects the designs to take six to nine months to complete, with construction bids expected to go out in spring 2018.
In budget discussions last week, several of the aldermen questioned whether some of the $2 million could be reallocated for other projects in fiscal 2018. The idea was ultimately squashed, though, with Alderman Michael O’Connor and Alderwoman Donna Kuzemchak both speaking adamantly against moving the money.
“I will not vote yes on a budget that does not have that money in it,” Kuzemchak said in a May 10 workshop.
Kershner said Wednesday he expects to spend the full $2 million on a purchase order for a contractor to complete the work. He also said the money to complete the Butterfly Lane realignment is already included in the fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019 budgets.
Aldermen in January approved a $98.5 million “bubble plan” for the park. The plan is a simpler version of a detailed proposal that elected officials initially rejected in August. It identifies sections, or bubbles, and lists facilities, amenities and infrastructure that could go in each one.
The original plan specifically called for a sports complex with multi-use fields and a stadium, a water park, an indoor swimming center, festival grounds and associated park facilities, among other elements.
In an effort to obtain a better plan and vision for the park, Mayor Randy McClement in March created the Westside Regional Park Task Force. The ad hoc committee, made up of a cross section of community, government and business representatives, is tasked with meeting for one year and tackle a series of goals, which include completing the park’s design and engineering, overseeing implementation of the approved bubble plan, and developing design standards for the park.
The group meets monthly and held its second meeting Wednesday. Committee members at the meeting discussed a proposal from the National Park Service to rent storage space for things such as maintenance equipment, trucks and trailers in exchange for storing and renovating some of the buildings on the farm.
Committee members also discussed potential subcommittees they could form to help narrow the focus of the group.
The members appointed a commission and vision subcommittee and field trip subcommittee Wednesday.
The commission and vision subcommittee will discuss creation of a mission statement for the group.
The field trip subcommittee will plan and coordinate trips to other parks and recreational facilities in the region to obtain ideas and inspiration about how they run and what may or may not work at Westside Regional Park.
Committee members also hope to bring in representatives from organizations including the Maryland Stadium Authority and USA Swimming to provide information about what types of facilities may be needed and how they should be constructed.
By Allen Etzler, Frederick News Post
Monday, April 24, 2017
Terri Rowe founded Maryland Bakes, a shared kitchen and co-op space in downtown Frederick. The space opened in February. Rowe spoke to The News-Post about the new business.
Can you explain what Maryland Bakes is and who will or can operate out of the shared space?
Maryland Bakes is a Health Department-approved kitchen for food artists to produce their products. We offer dry and cold storage, as well as the use of our consultation and tasting room, with retail opportunities that will include a physical location to meet with clients and pick up orders.
The starting members of Maryland Bakes are
Aunt B’s Angel Cookies
Perfect Little Bites
We are looking for other food artists, such as bread makers, cake bakers, food truck vendors, farmer’s market vendors and anyone who would like to grow their food business.
Why did you see this as a need in Frederick, and how did you come up with the idea?
I have known that there was a need for a co-op/shared kitchen for many years and in speaking with other independent food artists.
In the past, I have rented space at other facilities. There were limitations for availability and then came the grueling process of schlepping supplies in, time to set up and losing precious production time. And then after a few short hours of baking and cleaning, came the exhausting effort to pack up — that was 10 years ago.
Sure, I could produce my product at home due to “cottage food” laws, but it would take over my entire home and using just my home oven, I was limited to the number of cookies I was able to produce. I knew there had to be a better way.
What do you hope Maryland Bakes brings to the community?
The food scene in Frederick is exploding, with some amazing and creative food artists and the ability to source fresh, local ingredients.
I hope that Maryland Bakes will be an integral part of this diverse local food industry. We plan to source fresh ingredients from local farms, dairies, distilleries and breweries, providing high-quality ingredients in the products produced by our members.
We also hope to create a sense of community for our members by showcasing products though social media outlets such as Facebook and on our website. We want to encourage growth and support our members though shared ideas and cross-promoting each other’s products.
Being part of the Fredrick Community means caring about your neighbor and giving back, and we plan to do just that. At each of our monthly “Holiday Shops,” a member will be able to showcase a local nonprofit charity, provide information and donate a portion of sales to that charity.
In honor of Mother’s Day, Aunt B’s Angel Cookies will showcase Heartly House and Faith House. Both are local nonprofits that support women and children in Frederick County.
How would an interested party sign up to use the co-op kitchen?
Contact me for an application to get the ball rolling. You will need to provide a sample of your product and submit a copy of your license from the State of Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, along with a proof of product liability insurance. For those who do not have a license yet, the process is not as daunting as you may think. I’m here to walk you through the process, if needed.
What does your facility offer that someone wouldn’t get by using their own kitchen?
Legality, space and the ability to produce in larger quantities, a place to meet with clients for consultations and tastings, presentations and retail opportunities.
By Allen Etzler, Frederick News Post
Monday, April 10, 2017
Lisa Howard’s search for an Easter egg hunt led her to Hillcrest Elementary School.
Howard, her husband, Anthony, and her children — Jody, Riley, Lily and Aslan — joined more than 40 kids gathered on Sunday in the cafeteria at Hillcrest Elementary School in Frederick to take part in an early Easter celebration put on by the Golden Mile Alliance.
Youths participated in egg races, an egg toss, face painting, coloring and hula-hoop contests. Last year’s event featured an Easter egg hunt, but the Golden Mile Alliance decided to focus this year’s event on other Easter-based activities, said Deb Reynolds, president of the organization.
The Howards attended the event last year, and the children had such a good time that they chose to go again, she said.
“They have such a blast,” Lisa Howard said. “It’s such a great time for the kids, and they all get along well, so that’s why we came back.”
The event allowed children to take part in a community celebration a week before the family celebration takes place on Easter Sunday.
“Next week is going to be really busy for everyone, so it would have been hard to have it next Sunday, or even next Saturday,” Reynolds said.
Alderman Josh Bokee dressed as the Easter bunny for the event — posing for photos with youths and taking part in a dance competition and the egg race.
“He did such a great job,” Reynolds said. “Last year he said he wanted to do it for us, but we had already hired someone. So we had him do it this year, and it has gone really well.”
Riley Howard said his favorite part of the event was getting his face painted. He had the artist paint half of his face as a rabbit and the other half as a fox.
His brother Jody said he most enjoyed the lollipop tree. Children could choose a lollipop from a plastic tree and find a prize along with each.
Jody’s selection won him an Easter basket that included a flying disc, a yo-yo, a paddle ball and more activities for him to play at home.
“It was my favorite because I got to win all of this stuff,” Jody said. “Plus you get a lollipop.”
By Mallory Panuska, Frederick News Post
Saturday, April 1, 2017
City officials’ vision for the Westside Regional Park at Hargett Farm seems to finally be coming together.
The proposed park is slated for a large piece of vacant, city-owned property along Butterfly Lane known as Hargett Farm. City leaders in 2009 paid $18 million for the land, which has since accrued roughly $1.5 million in annual debt service with little to no progress toward development.
It may not seem like much, but the mayor has included $2 million toward infrastructure, design and construction funds in his fiscal 2018 budget. And a group of community members are appointed and ready to tackle fundraising and other efforts to move the project forward.
Mayor Randy McClement said Wednesday the investment would be the biggest one the city has proposed for development costs since the city bought the land.
The first meeting of the Westside Regional Park Task Force has also been set for 7 p.m. April 19 at the city’s Municipal Annex. Officials said the public is encouraged to attend and offer comment.
The task force will be made up of 14 people representing education, regional recreation, economic development, user groups, and neighborhood/other groups.
Members appointed thus far are:
Paul Lebo — Frederick County Public Schools
Chuck Mann — higher education
Bob Hicks — Frederick County Parks & Recreation
Joe Baldi — City Parks & Recreation Commission member
Deb Reynolds — Golden Mile Alliance
TBD — Chamber of Commerce
Melissa Muntz — tourism
Rob Fox — aquatics
Bo Eskay — soccer
Shauna Tunder — Neighborhood Advisory Council 5
Lance English — Neighborhood Advisory Council 8
Frank Strakonsky — resident
Ed Hinde — resident
Alderman Michael O’Connor — aldermanic liaison
City-hired consultants prepared a $98.5 million plan for the park and presented the intricate details to aldermen in August. The aldermen balked at the price and scope, which specifically called for a sports complex with multi-use fields and a stadium, a water park, an indoor swimming center, festival grounds and associated park facilities, among other developments. The plan was sent back to city staff members for tweaking and a new “bubble plan,” was presented and approved in January. The new plan identifies sections, or bubbles, and lists facilities, amenities and infrastructure that could go in each one.
Members of the task force are tasked with guiding development of the park as funding becomes available and soliciting private donors to help pay the cost. The project is slated to be funded through a public-private partnership.
Frederick may have only had one major snow storm this winter, but that did not stop the city from getting statewide recognition for a newly initiated app designed to track snow removal efforts.
The City of Frederick Snow Removal Application won first place in the professional category at the Towson University GIS Conference on March 20. Application designer Bill Adkins demonstrated the app during the conference and accepted the first-place award.
Mayor Randy McClement recognized staff members from the Geographic Information Systems and Public Works departments, who were responsible for developing the app, Wednesday during a workshop with the Board of Aldermen.
The application, which city officials launched March 13 and 14 during a storm that dumped between 6 and 8 inches of snow across the city, provides citizens and staff the ability to track snow removal progress after a winter weather event.
The app displays a map of all the streets in the city and updates which ones are cleared as crews plow them. Similar to an online utility map, it shows information such as road conditions, road classifications and snow removal regions. The road conditions have colors designating they are unplowed, treated, started or cleared and the colors change as crews tend to them.
Staff members spent about six months creating the application in-house to use this winter.
The app had about 1,100 hits during the storm.
A banner initiative
The Golden Mile Alliance is — presumably — just a few months away from putting up banners around the Golden Mile.
Economic Development Manager Bobby Baumler told alliance members at their regular monthly meeting on March 21 that only a few loose ends are left to tie up before 50 30-foot, by 60-foot banners are on display.
The banners, which are similar to ones set up around Everedy Square and Shab Row in downtown, are part of a new beautification and branding initiative.
Baumler said he has pretty much finalized a memorandum of understanding with Potomac Edison to put up the banners and is nearly ready to give the go-ahed to begin the work. He was leery about giving a set timeline, but said it would be soon.
Group members plan to give plenty of notice before putting them up so business owners and the public are aware when it happens.
Baumler said he is trying to work it out so all of the banners are put up around the same time.
By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, Frederick News Post
Thursday, March 23, 2017
A new elementary school in west Frederick, meant to ease overcrowding at area schools, won’t completely erase the problem.
The proposed attendance boundaries for Butterfly Ridge Elementary School, as endorsed by the superintendent, were presented to the Frederick County Board of Education Wednesday.
Superintendent Terry Alban’s recommendation comes after months of extensive meetings in which district officials sought public comment.
The district will pull students from Hillcrest, Waverley and Orchard Grove elementary schools to fill Butterfly Ridge, and shift students at other elementary schools around to balance enrollments. A little more than 1,200 elementary students will move from one school to another.
The new attendance area border starts with U.S. 40, separating it from the Waverley Elementary district. Some previous Hillcrest neighborhoods were pulled into Butterfly Ridge, as well as some rural, open areas down to Mount Zion Road.
Butterfly Ridge, along with a second new elementary school, Sugarloaf in Urbana, is planned to open in the fall of 2018.
Even with the new school, district staff members believe that in 2018-19, at least five elementary schools will be over capacity, which is determined by the state: Orchard Grove, Tuscarora, Valley, Waverley, and Whittier elementary schools.
Waverley in particular is estimated to be quite crowded after Butterfly Ridge opens, at 157 percent of its state-rated capacity. The district plans to renovate Waverley, possibly building an addition within five years.
Board member Colleen Cusimano said during the meeting she was surprised that Butterfly Ridge would open far below capacity — about 82 percent.
Several county-approved developments are underway in the attendance area for Butterfly Ridge, Beth Pasierb, the district’s supervisor of facilities planning, said. The district wanted to leave wiggle room for future students, she said.
Staff members could have shifted more neighborhoods from Waverley to Butterfly Ridge to help bring down overcrowding at Waverley, said Chief Operating Officer Paul Lebo. But that would have sharply bumped up the percentage of impoverished students who would attend Waverley.
A temporary move from some Waverley students to Butterfly Ridge was suggested until a Waverley addition is constructed.
Parents were adamant that the district, in redrawing, attendance lines not exclude low-income students or create pockets of poverty, a point with which district officials agreed.
“I think it’s a disadvantage to continue to run a school that’s at 157 percent capacity in the hopes of watering down the poverty impact,” Cusimano said. “It’s not even a struggle for me, if there’s some way to relieve the numbers. I think it creates some safety issues. I think it creates educational challenges to pack that many students into a building that isn’t made for that many people.”
The district anticipates that about 58 percent of students attending Butterfly Ridge will use free or reduced-price meals at school, a mark of poverty.
Butterfly Ridge will likely join the county’s Title I schools, which enroll a high percentage of students on free and reduced-price meals and are entitled to additional federal dollars for initiatives like after-school activities or more teachers.
This redistricting will reduce or remove portable classrooms at some schools, a peeve of parents who say outdoor classes pose safety concerns for students.
Hillcrest Elementary will no longer need any of its current 20 portable classrooms.
Lebo said fencing is being constructed at Waverley around the existing portables, a response to community feedback.
The school district is trying to cope with soaring populations in some areas, like Frederick and Urbana, while schools remain underused in others. There was an unexpected influx of more than 650 students this year. The district has accounted for nearly 500 more in the next school year.
Vice President Liz Barrett has called for a more comprehensive countywide study, including a look at vastly underused schools.
The idea hasn’t gained traction with board members before, but some seemed to warm to it Wednesday night. Board member Mike Bunitsky wholeheartedly agreed with many of Barrett’s points. Others, including the student member, went along Bunitsky, but with caveats.
“I certainly will not make the mistake I made my first year on the board and talk about closing schools, but I will talk about how we can use the space that we have,” Barrett said.
Cusimano said in a later interview that she supports a countywide redistricting. However, she said the process is complicated by new regulations on students who want to attend schools other than where they’re assigned. She said students should be allowed to attend other schools, so wiping the map clean and redrawing all of the lines is almost a “suggestion.”
In the Butterfly Ridge redistricting, contractor Cropper GIS Consulting assisted the district, specifically in developing and analyzing maps. Cropper was paid about $30,000, Pasierb has said.
Representatives from Cropper will appear at a school board meeting in May — the same month the board is due to decide on new attendance areas.
The district will hold three more public hearings on the redistricting proposal in March and April.