The Howard County school board has asked for a new round of air quality tests on property in Jessup that is being considered for a new high school.
The Mission Road site is near an active quarry and the school board also wants a structural integrity test to determine if a building could be affected by blasting, part of the quarry’s rock extraction process, that occurs once or twice a week.
A second site for a new school, on the drawing board as part of plans to ease crowding in east county schools, is at Troy Park in Elkridge.
Board members are up against a tight deadline to pick a site for the county’s 13th high school in time for an August 2022 opening, a time frame that Superintendent Michael Martirano has called a “near impossibility.”
Questions have surfaced about both properties. Some have opposed using parkland for a school and concerns have been raised about environmental issues near the quarry.
Mission Road passed two phases of environmental tests, as well as an air quality test conducted in July 2017 by an outside contractor for the Department of Public Works.
Director of School Construction Scott Washington said the additional tests at the Mission Road site are scheduled for this week with the hope of presenting the results to the school board in time for a March 8 decision.
At a public meeting last Thursday night, school board members spent more than an hour asking about the safety of the Jessup site, with questions ranging from possible contaminants in the soil and waste on-site to the noise levels of the blasts. Engineers said that any contaminants, such as petroleum hydrocarbons, a chemical found in crude oil, found in the soil were within acceptable regulatory ranges.
The board spent less time asking about the Troy Park site. Questions focused on how county land that was bought to be used as open space could be transferred for use as building space. The board’s plan for the site would require about 11 acres of land for school building, requiring the county to find other open land elsewhere in the county for replacement open space.
Board members expressed concern about the limited available acreage for a building.
“I really don’t want this high school to be shortchanged, I really don’t want the community, wherever this school goes, to be shortchanged in size compared to other schools,” said board member Sandra French.
Board member Kirsten Coombs said she was encouraged about the prospect of Mission Road after hearing from experts, but still wants to see the results of a structural engineering test.
“I do feel better with Mission Road after hearing directly from scientists and the fact that contaminants were common, minimal and could be remediated,” Coombs said.
Coombs did not say whether she thought a decision by March 8 was realistic.
“Everybody is working hard so that we can take a vote, but so we’re not endangering the health of our children,” she said.