School board pursues site plans on Ducketts Lane

Howard County officials will pursue plans for a new elementary school at Ducketts Lane to curb overcrowding in schools along the U.S. 1 corridor, despite residents' concerns over increased traffic and the relatively small site.

Preliminary design plans for the 600-seat school at the 10.1-acre Elkridge site, adjacent to U.S. 1, were presented at a community meeting Tuesday. School officials hope to open the school in August 2013 to alleviate overcrowding and projected growth in enrollment where the county has sought to spur redevelopment.

But some residents raised questions about added traffic through their neighborhood, the threat to off-street parking on their streets during after-school events, construction, and general concerns about the new development 90-some feet behind their property, which is now a tree-filled lot. Others said they felt the school board was moving too quickly in creating a design specific to a site that has not been purchased.

"There are things that I want, but I'm not against the school," said Alexis Fobes, whose home sits next to where the proposed bus entrance to the school is located.

The proposed design plans show the front of the school facing Ducketts Lane, with a bus lot circling around the side, adjacent to Lori Lane. Behind the school, a multipurpose field backs up to the Capital Mobile Home Park. A separate parking lot for cars borders the ABF U-Pack freight facility, near U.S. 1.

Fobes raised questions during the meeting about how close bus traffic would come to her home. But afterward, she said the school would be a benefit to her family since she has two children who could attend the school instead of taking a bus to Rockburn Elementary.

She said she liked that the site was smaller and that it could not hold portable classroom trailers if the student population grew, and that the county would be forced to find places for new students rather than crowding the school.

Still other residents, like Brian Moroney with the Greater Elkridge Community Association's school committee, worried that the site was too small.

He said he "felt there were too many compromises," that the site was six acres short. County guidelines suggest 10 acres for a school with an additional acre for every 100 students. But county officials argued that several neighborhood schools do not meet that guideline and that an optimal space in the congested eastern part of the county is hard to come by.

During the meeting, Moroney also expressed concern over the site layout — that the field was separated from the school building by a service lot, which could be dangerous for students at recess.

Plans also include a multipurpose field, outdoor classroom space and a storm water management outdoor learning center where wetlands will be filled. Howard school officials said a permit is required from the state Department of the Environment and the Army Corps of Engineers to fill in wetlands.

Chris Magaha, president of the board of directors at Marble Hill Condominium across the street from the site said, "I'm fully in support of the school site," but he added, "I think we really needed to see more of the county analysis" of the other sites.

The board of education approved the Elkridge site in June, giving an alternative to a previously proposed site that raised concerns about proximity to a MARC rail commuter line and a proposed CSX rail cargo transfer station.

The county has not purchased land for the elementary school, but officials said design plans are being made now to speed up the process to prepare for the expected student population growth with new development in the area.

The number of Howard schools in danger of overcrowding has doubled in the past year, with most along the U.S. 1 corridor where the county has sought to spur redevelopment, according to a report awaiting submission to the County Council.

"In the future, we would like to have land reserves," said Joel Gallihue, manager of planning for county schools after the meeting. But for now, "we most urgently need an elementary school in 2013."

Gallihue said residents should expect redistricting to affect students for the rest of the decade, with an additional middle school scheduled to open 2015.

Potential delays in schools could result in delaying building of homes along the county's oldest commercial corridor as a result of growth-control laws that restrict development around schools that are 15 percent or more over their rated capacity.

Ken Roey, the school system's executive director of facilities, assured residents that the county will not build anything before a traffic study is completed this fall.

The board of education is to meet Sept. 8 to review design plans for the Ducketts Lane project.

Copyright © 2018, Howard County Times, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad