BOE vote is unanimous; middle school to remain in Chestertown

ROCK HALL — After months of discussion, fact-finding and exploring options, the Kent County Board of Education unanimously voted Monday that a proposed new Kent County Middle School would remain in Chestertown.

Superintendent Karen Couch recommended that the board move forward with the option to replace the middle school at the current 15-acre campus.

That option allows for middle school students to remain in the existing structure while a new one is built in the space that is currently the playing fields.

Once construction is completed, students will move into the new building. The existing structure will be demolished, and the playing fields will be replaced in its footprint.

The other option still under consideration at the start of the Oct. 9 meeting was constructing a new middle school at the Worton campus. That structure would have been adjacent to Kent County High School and the former Worton Elementary School, which currently serves as a bus depot.

Other options previously under consideration were renovation of the existing structure; construction of a new school on a different site in Chestertown; and construction of a new school as an attachment to Kent County High School.

The existing building, which was constructed in the 1940s as a high school for Chestertown area students, has many structural deficiencies and does not meet 21st century educational standards

The options for new construction at Chestertown and new construction in Worton were weighed in a pros and cons list, Couch said, based on academic supports for students and staff, facility operations and community perceptions.

A 21-person committee of administrators, principals, teachers and parents assessed the pros and cons for each site, ultimately favoring the Chestertown site.

Another concern for Couch regarding the Worton site was, if a middle school is built there, then that space cannot be used for any expansion or replacement of the high school.

Several of the board members said they were grateful for the thorough investigation as part of the decision-making process, and for those in the community who provided input.

“This project is very exciting for me. It makes me very hopeful for this county,” said student member of the board Madison Messick, a senior at KCHS.

The new construction project is estimated to cost $55 million. Kent County’s obligation to that cost is currently 50%.

Earlier in the meeting, Couch announced that the school system is pursuing legislation that would increase the state’s share of construction costs for the middle school project. She has been working with state Sen. Steve Hershey (R-Upper Shore) and Del. Jeff Ghrist (R-36-Caroline), who said pre-filing the bill would increase the likelihood of it passing.

As part of that legislation, Couch said the school system is requesting that the state pay for 98% of construction costs.

“I’m hopeful that we will get some positive traction on that,” Couch said, adding that even if the school system did not get the full 98%, securing at least 80% would be “amazing for us.”

Board President Joe Goetz asked that community members testify in support of the legislation.

The new middle would serve students in grades five through eight.

Since 2010, when middle schools in Chestertown, Rock Hall and Galena consolidated into a single building, Kent County Middle School in Chestertown has served students in grades six through eight.

Prior to that, middle schools in Kent County were for grades five to eight.

Trish McGee, who is the owner and publisher of The Evening Enterprise, is an elected member of the Kent County Board of Education. She did not contribute to this reporting.






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