With the accelerated opening of Howard County’s 13th high school in 2022, Bruce Gist, the executive director of capital planning, says the school system is following a “tight and aggressive schedule” to decide between two possible locations by December.
During the board’s quarterly meeting Oct. 11 with the Howard County Council, Gist and Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano said the two sites under consideration for High School 13 include the Mission Road site in Jessup and the Landing and Montgomery roads site in Elkridge, also known as Rockburn Park.
The county’s Department of Public Works completed two phases of environmental studies and outdoor air quality assessments at Mission Road, while phase one environmental testing is underway at Rockburn Park. Public works and the school system are currently working on a grading plan based on the ongoing environmental studies.
Two air quality tests were completed at the Mission Road site, Gist said, and test results were “all positive.”
“The result and data that we got as far as the air quality said the site is viable and in compliance with outdoor air quality standards,” Gist said.
The site’s 77 acres would also accommodate Elementary School 43, expected to open in 2023.
Mission Road has drawn concerns from the community because of its location next to an active quarry, which board Chairwomen Cindy Vaillancourt said has a mining permit for another 13 to 14 years and anticipates operating between the next five and 14 years.
“Their intention is to continue to mine that quarry until it ceases being profitable,” Vaillancourt told the council Wednesday. “It’s a beautiful site, we need it and it’s great. The question of whether or not we should be building a $100 million school while the quarry is operating is more a political issue.”
In addition to being a future school site, a water storage facility and Recreation and Parks amenities are planned on the site. The school system’s Site Review Committee recommended the board consider Mission Road for future schools.
“The quarry operations have no bearing on the water tower or the Recreation and Park’s uses and it remains to be seen whether there will ultimately be any impact on the use of that property for schools,” Vaillancourt said. “No matter what else happens along the way, the Mission Road site is a great location for schools we know we are going to need in the future.”
Gist said a bridge infrastructure may be necessary at Rockburn Park due to the existing wetlands; however, construction would be difficult since Landing Road is a state scenic road.
“What we’re talking about is a very fast and rapid process and we’re taking all relevant steps as prudently and efficiently as we can,” Gist said.
Although preliminary steps are underway, the board and council agreed that nothing can be completed without necessary funding.
“We need to figure things out as quickly as possible and we need to have a real plan because the budget is coming,” said District 2 Councilman Calvin Ball. “We need to have serious funding behind these plans to address the concerns on capacity issues we have today.”
“The commitment for the funding to start enables us to actually move forward and not just say, ‘Well, we have a plan for later,’” Vaillancourt added.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and school officials plan to advocate for state funding on Oct. 18 in Annapolis.