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Elkridge elementary school site remains uncertain

SchoolsElementary Schools

The fate of a $2.64 million deal for a new elementary school site in Elkridge remains unclear, with the property owners embroiled in a dispute over a lien that has delayed the project.

If the Howard County school system cannot purchase a 10.1-acre site from Ducketts Ridge LLC, school officials will have to look elsewhere to open a 600-seat elementary school.

The new school, which officials had hoped to open by August 2013, is needed to ease projected growth at Bellow Springs, Deep Run and Elkridge elementary schools in the northeastern part of the county.

"Delays are going to impact the students," especially at Bellow Springs, where the number of students has already swelled, said Joel Gallihue, manager of planning for the Howard County school system.

Gallihue said the deal has failed to close three times because the sellers have had some differences with their lienholder who will not release the lien against the property. He said the two parties have continued to negotiate over the difference of less than $200,000 in the multimillion-dollar deal.

"They are squabbling over pennies when dollars are on the table," he said, adding that "we have a contract with them. We could enforce it with a lawsuit."

Sellers with Ducketts Ridge LLC declined to comment, while the lienholder did not return calls for comment Monday night.

Gallihue said the school is offering "10 percent in excess of our highest appraisal," because the school system wanted to ensure it made a competitive offer on the badly needed site.

"We know what the property is worth, and we offered more than that," he said. But he added that the property is underwater, saying the appraisals came in lower than what is owed on the property.

As the school system remains on hold, the Howard County Council is also delaying the approval of a chart that measures schools' population capacity. Another that limits the number of new homes developers can build in the county from 2014 to 2016 was approved Monday.

The charts are important because areas where schools are considered at capacity can be closed to developers seeking to build new homes. The vote on the chart approval was delayed over the summer as school officials worked to secure two new school sites in the northeastern section of the county, at Oxford Square and Ducketts Lane.

Gallihue said the council was asked to delay Monday's vote until a deal can be reached.

jkanderson@baltsun.com

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