The head of Howard County’s public school system said Thursday night “the clock is ticking” and it was growing increasingly unlikely the county could open a new high school in 2022 as the school board hasn’t picked a site.
At a community meeting, Superintendent Michael Martirano said to achieve an opening less than five years away, the board would have to select a property by March 1.
Expediting the opening was proposed last year as a way to avoid the need for a wider redistricting plan to relieve overcrowding in eastern county schools.
Two properties — privately held land along Mission Road in Jessup and the county-owned Troy Hill Park in Elkridge — are under consideration and residents have objected to both.
The 77-acre Mission Road property is near an active quarry, which has raised safety and environmental concerns. Others don’t want parkland carved up for a school.
County Council members, County Executive Allan Kittleman, Martirano and several other officials met with residents in an attempt to quell concerns about the process to choose a site for the 1,600-seat, $124 million school.
Director of School Construction Scott Washington told the school board and council earlier in the week a five-year timeline is needed to build a school.
Officials explained the four key steps to choose a site: a yearly study to determine where in the county any additional buildings are needed, a search for potential sites, a closed school board session to discuss the land acquisition and a public hearing to gather input.
The board held a public hearing on Mission Road in October 2016; if it chooses to move forward with Troy Hill Park, a public hearing must be held.
Critics of the Troy Hill Park option are skeptical of its potential, in part because a development plan includes about five acres held by private owners.
Bruce Gist, the school system’s executive director of capital planning and operations, said his team had created a plan that did not include the private property. However, Department of Recreation and Parks Director John Byrd said his department’s plan relied on purchasing the property.
Byrd said after the meeting that his department had spoken with the property owners about selling their land to the county and want to keep an open dialogue, but that so far they have not been open to selling their land.
“They don’t like the idea of their property being used as a pawn,” Byrd said.
Some Mission Road site supporters said it appeared the decision had been made to use the site at Troy Hill Park. Jessup resident Lori Hall said officials only brought site plans for Troy Hill to the meeting.
Elkridge resident Diana Berry said she felt “hopeful” that the board would choose their preferred site.
Martirano said at the end of the meeting that he wanted the county to acquire both sites for future school projects, as the county would have needs for Mission Road even if it did not include a high school.
No board members or Kittleman spoke at the meeting. Kittleman emphasized after the meeting that while he was not a decision maker in the location choice, he still believed the 2022 deadline was possible. The board’s next meeting is Feb. 8.