In testimony that they said represented the opinion of many within their community, several Elkridge residents spoke out at a Howard County Board of Education meeting Thursday night against a plan to buy land in Hanover's Oxford Square development as a site for a future school.
The 8.2-acre lot is adjacent to the site where the county is currently building a middle school, which is scheduled to open in 2014. The new facility would likely be an elementary school slated for completion by 2019, by which time Ducketts Lane Elementary School, which is opening Aug. 26, will be overcapacity. Ducketts Lane Elementary is less than 3 miles from the Hanover site.
Six people came to the board meeting to voice their opposition to the proposal.
In their testimony, community members questioned the safety of locating a school in proximity to CSX railroad tracks.
Leslie Kornreich, an Elkridge resident, noted that next week marks the anniversary "of the tragic loss of the lives of two young girls from a train derailment right in our backyard, Ellicott City." She was referring to a CSX train derailment last year on the railroad bridge over Main Street in Historic Ellicott City that killed two 19-old-year-old graduates of Mt. Hebron on Aug. 21.
"Perhaps it is appropriate that we are here on this day to implore you to do what is in your power to prevent further tragedy from train accidents," she said.
Kornreich said she was concerned about the materials transported by CSX trains, such as crude oil, which she worried could cause "a HAZMAT situation."
Former Board of Education member Allen Dyer also testified about the safety of the project.
"I think it's unsafe to build a school next to the railroad tracks," Dyer said. "And I don't see how building two schools next to the railroad tracks is going to improve the situation at all."
He argued that a higher density of students would lengthen evacuation time should there be an emergency.
School planning manager Joel Gallihue said school officials toured the site with emergency responders when they were first considering purchasing the land to address those worries. He said the middle school will be located at least 1,000 feet from the train tracks, and he thinks that distance would remain the same for any new school facility built next door.
He added that the new middle school, and presumably any new facility located there, would have air handling features that allow for emergency shutoff and control of air intake from outside the building.
Doug Kornreich, president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association, focused his testimony on what he considered to be the inadequacies of the lot as a site for another new school.
He argued that the lot was too expensive for what it provided. At a June 27 Board of Education meeting, Gallihue said the school system would offer Kellogg-CCP $8.2 million for the site, to be offset by $4 million in funds promised by the developer in a deal to build the middle school.
"Building an elementary school on this too-small and very expensive site would make no sense," he said, citing potential parking issues as another concern.
Board members didn't discuss the proposal at the meeting, although Sandra French later said she hoped Elkridge residents didn't feel ignored.
"All you have to do is to go to the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Ducketts Lane and you will see how much we care about the Elkridge community," she said. "It's going to be a real showpiece."
The Board is scheduled to vote Sept. 12 on whether to purchase the Oxford Square site.
Plans approved at two elementaries
Board members also approved plans for renovations and additions to two schools, one preliminary and one final.
The final approved construction document report for Longfellow Elementary School in Columbia shows relocation and reconfiguration of some rooms to streamline movement throughout the school. The VPC ceilings in the cafetorium will also be replaced by polished concrete, which will pay for itself in 10 years thanks to low maintenance costs, according to school officials.
The preliminary design plan for a two-story addition at Laurel Woods Elementary would eliminate four of the school's six portables, expand the cafetorium and cluster the art, music and technology classrooms upstairs.
The projected completion date for both projects is August 2015.