Options For Showell School’s Future Weighed

NEWARK – A recently completed land-use study of the Showell Elementary School property revealed the site could handle a major expansion, renovation or even replacement estimated between $25 million and $27 million depending on the option chosen, but there are serious issues to resolve including sewer, before any project can be undertaken.

Worcester County Board of Education members this week got an overview of a land-use study conducted by the Becker Morgan Group of the Showell Elementary site. The study was commissioned to determine if the property could adequately support an addition to the existing school or a replacement school, which would accommodate current and future enrollment growth.

The good news is the study determined the site could support an expansion of around 32,000 square feet to reach a total of about 85,000 square feet or a replacement school could be constructed on the site to get to the projected 85,000 square feet or beyond. The existing facility is just over 52,000 square feet, but will soon be maxed out given future growth projections. Currently, nine portable classrooms account for about 25 percent of the school’s classroom space.

The bad news is the site needs a major overhaul to its existing sewer disposal system regardless of what option is chosen or even if no option is chosen at this time. The school property currently utilizes a single drain field to dispose of treated effluent, but an expanded school or new school would likely need two drain fields of the same size.

“The current system is 30-plus years old and is nearing the end of its useful life,” Becker Morgan’s Robert Simkins told school board members this week. “A basic drain field lasts about 30 years, so you can see you’re on borrowed time.”

Simkins said expanding the drain field system would have to take up space on the site needed for other amenities in the expanded or replaced school. The building envelope is fairly tight already, according to the conceptual plans for an expanded school or replacement school, making expanding the drain field system difficult. Because of that and other reasons, Simkins urged school board members to consider hooking up the site to a public system sooner rather than later.

“You’re not going to be able to discharge into the creeks,” he said. “It will need to be a drain field and that will compete for space with other elements.”

Assistant Superintendent for Administration Ed Barber agreed the time was right to consider connecting the school property to a public system regardless of which if any option for expansion or replacement is chosen further down the road.

“Our maintenance people have had to make repairs already,” he said. “They’re concerned it’s going to fail at any time. I think we need to hook up to the public system as soon as possible.”

Hooking into a county-owned public system could prove difficult in the short term. The Showell property is included in a first-to-be-served area identified by the county if and when public service becomes available in the area, but there is no timetable for doing that. Sewer service could come from a Greater Ocean Pines service area or eventually from capacity drawn from the old Perdue property in Showell, but there is no firm plan in place.

“I think we need to request the county take a closer look at this,” said school board member Bob Hulburd. “We need to ask the commissioners to let us know where we stand.”

Assuming the sewer issues can be resolved, expanding the existing school or replacing it entirely is in the works, although it will likely be several years. The land-use study completed by Becker Morgan this fall is an important first step, but a thorough feasibility study will be the next step in the process. School board members voted on Tuesday to request funding for the feasibility study in the fiscal year 2009 budget.

“This is just the first step in a long-term process,” said Hulburd. “Even if we got the feasibility study started next year, it would be several years before any project could be undertaken. The kids in Showell now would be out of Showell before this is done.”

Nonetheless, the land-use study conducted by Becker Morgan included conceptual plans for both an expansion and a replacement, with varying projected costs depending on the options chosen. Option I is an expansion/renovation with an estimated cost of $27.7 million, while Option II calls for a replacement to the tune of an estimated $25.8 million. It is important to note the estimates are very conceptual. They are based on projected 2011 cost estimates for school construction, however.

One of the drawbacks for expanding the existing school is that the project would have to be done in several phases, causing student relocations, noise and other disruptions. Given the close cost estimates, school board members appeared to favor replacing the school, which would allow the existing school to be utilized during construction, similar to the situation with the recently replaced Ocean City Elementary. Incidentally, with either option, the new Showell Elementary would be roughly the same size as the new OCES.