Showell School Questions Remain; Enrollment Change Questioned

SNOW HILL – County officials continue to have questions about plans for the construction of a new Showell Elementary School.

When presented with the school system’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) this week, the Worcester County Commissioners agreed to ask education officials to return to them to explain the school’s proposed enrollment and inflation costs associated with construction. Commissioners said they didn’t understand the changes that had been made to the document since they cut the project’s cost from $54 million to $37 million.

“The commissioners did not require a change in enrollment,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said. “I don’t know where that came from.”

The school system’s CIP was revised and resubmitted to the commissioners following their agreement earlier this month to limit the cost of the new school to $37 million. According to county staff, the latest edition of the document identified a drop in proposed enrollment for the school from 657 students to 616 students. In addition, the CIP includes inflation in the amount of $1,755,000, bringing the total project cost to $38,939,000 — more than the commissioners proposed.

“The footnote indicates that the county commissioners revised the proposed enrollment in addition to the gross square footage and total estimated project budget,” county budget officer Kathy Whited wrote in memo to the commissioners.

Bertino and Commissioner Jim Bunting expressed concern regarding the changes. Bertino said that though the CIP was a planning document, he believed it should include the numbers the commissioners previously agreed to.

“I believe we need to hold firm,” he said.

He pointed out that the state required schools to allow for 112 square feet per student. The school board, however, wanted the Showell school to allow for 146 square feet per student.

“I think they need to justify that number,” Bertino said.

He added that students at other county schools, notably Ocean City Elementary School, had less space than that.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic pointed out that even though Ocean City Elementary had extra classrooms when it opened a decade ago, it was already at or above capacity.

Bunting, however, again pointed out that the state only required 112 square feet per child.

“It seems like already they’re saying we’ve limited them on something they can’t live with,” he said. “Enrollment should stay at 657 students.”

When contacted after Tuesday’s meeting of the commissioners, Carrie Sterrs, coordinator of public relations for the school system, said Showell’s proposed enrollment had been revised to 616 based on the space needed per student. She said enrollment, which will include the return of fourth-graders to the school, was originally calculated at 641 students in 2024.  Because of that, school system officials proposed a 104,000 square foot building, which would have allowed for that many students as well as an extra classroom for 16 students, bringing the enrollment figure to 657. When the commissioners provided a pro forma cost estimate of $37 million, Sterrs said the new building was limited to 90,000 square feet, thus allowing for fewer students.

“At this point in the project process, prior to commencement of the initial phase of design, discussions and calculations of the proposed school capacity are conceptual at best,” Sterrs said.