Opening day in August of 2015 for Captain Walter Francis Duke Elementary School, St., Mary’s County’s newest school. Photo by Ron Bailey.

Leonardtown, MD — Slower than anticipated growth in St. Mary’s County has caused the school board to delay plans for construction of a new elementary school and possibly a new facility that would start as a middle school and transition to a high school.

The revisions are included in the 2016 Educational Facilities Master Plan presented recently to the St., Mary’s County Board of Education and which will be presented to the planning commission in August and forwarded to the county commissioners and the state.

In order to get state monies for school construction, “The state requires 50 percent of the capacity to be in place at the time of planning approval and the remainder when occupancy occurs,” according to Director of Capital Planning and Green Schools Kimberly Howe. That is what happened with the new Captain Walter Francis Duke Elementary School in Leonardtown.

Howe, in her report to the school board, said capacity needs are determined by the birth rate, housing market, jobs, migration, income and household size. State projections for anticipated growth in the county are historically higher than the local projections.

Howe said, “While the Great Recession and on-going economic recovery have yielded mixed indicators of growth, there is support for additional capacity at the elementary school level within the six-year plan.” But the plan delays the request for state funding for that elementary school one year until Fiscal year 2019. That new school will be in Great Mills on land already purchased.

For quite some time the school board has been mulling over what to do about the wave of students moving from elementary school to middle and then high school. One option is to build a new middle school for them and then transition that to a new high school or a combination middle and high school at the same location.

Whatever is done, that project has been deferred two years to Fiscal Year (FY) 2023, at which time it is anticipated that the middle schools will be at 50 percent over capacity. High schools are expected to reach that threshold in FY 2026, although Leonardtown High School is over capacity today.

As a matter of fact, a number of elementary schools are over capacity today as well, leading to the need for mobile units which is expected to continue. According to the information provided by Howe. the following elementary schools are expected to be over capacity next school year: Evergreen, George Washington Carver, Lettie Marshall Dent, Lexington Park, Mechanicsville, Park Hall, Ridge and White Marsh.
The only middle school expected to be operating over capacity next school year is Spring Ridge.

One option under consideration for helping high school capacity problems would be expansion of Fairlead Academy in FY Year 2018 and also the impact of programs at the James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center.,

The school board unanimously approved the six-year plan at its June 8 meeting.

Contact Dick Myers at