Howard officials suggest Oxford Square site for 2019 elementary school

With construction under way on a new middle school in Hanover's Oxford Square development, Howard County school officials already are planning to give the building a new neighbor: an elementary school.

In a report before the Board of Education at its meeting June 27, Joel Gallihue, the system's manager of school planning, suggested moving forward with purchasing an 8.2-acre parcel of land for a new elementary school in 2019. The site is adjacent to where the new middle school will open in 2014.

"This is an important opportunity for our future land bank," Gallihue said. "We've been through a tough time, sometimes being behind the eight-ball not having land and having to rush acquisition. We can position the school system to not be in such an urgent position in the future."

In 2011, the board had discussed placing an elementary school where the middle school is currently being built, but uncertainty over the location of a CSX Corp. intermodal facility prompted the acquisition of a site on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge for the school. That school is set to open in August, and CSX last year ended its plans for an Elkridge facility.

The school system has made an $8.2 million offer to Kellogg-CCP for the site, with the developer offering to chip in $4 million for the school. Kellogg-CCP has accepted the letter of intent, and Ken Roey, the system's executive director of facilities, planning and management, said "sooner is better" than later for the board to close the deal.

Having an elementary and middle school close together would create the synergy of a campus once both buildings are open, Gallihue said. Ideally, he said, the site should be purchased as quickly as possible, to give the school system a wide window for planning and construction. The school would need to open in 2019, Gallihue said, as Ducketts Lane will be overcapacity by then, and more development is on its way.

"We're well positioned with that site to serve that development," Gallihue said.

Oxford Square is currently in the attending areas of Bellows Springs, Elkridge and Ducketts Lane elementary schools and potentially could relieve all three.

"This is a good site when you consider the close proximity of three other schools that are showing the strongest growth," Gallihue said.

The site already has gone through various analyses, Gallihue said, and has been sent to the state clearinghouse for vetting. The site is currently slated for residential buildings, and the site's developer, David Scheffenacker, can move that residential capacity elsewhere in the development, with the approval of the county's planning board.

A public hearing on the site is set for August 15, and a board vote on purchasing the land Sept. 12.

Some board members, while in support of the site, were concerned about the scheduling of the public hearing, which falls more than a week before the start of the school year and may mean the public may not be as aware of the public hearing.

"This is of concern to the people in the community at large, so public notice is important," said Ellen Giles. "If we do a good job in getting the word out, that we believe this is a suitable site for this particular project, we can get this information out ahead of time and we can raise the visibility on this."


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