Elkridge residents voice opposition to proposed elementary school

Armed with redistricting maps, her two children and her mother- and father-in-law in tow, Lori Hatfield of Elkridge patiently kept her hand raised, waiting to query Howard County Public School System officials about a proposed elementary school site on Ducketts Lane.

Hatfield was one of almost 50 residents to attend a community meeting at the Elkridge Senior Center Tuesday, Aug. 9 to ask questions and voice concern over a 10.1-acre property on Ducketts Lane the county Board of Education recently designated as a potential school site. She, like others, saw the proposal to build a 600-seat school in their neighborhood as a sign of "desperation" on the part of the system and the board, who still hope to open a new school for the 2013-2014 school year.

"I can't understand the hurry," she said after the meeting. "The community is not happy, and yeah, there are worse things to go in than a school, but it seems like a quick fix to the Coca-Cola Drive issue."

The school system had initially proposed building a school on a larger parcel of land on Coca-Cola Drive, but decided that site was too close to a proposed CSX Corp. intermodal transit facility. In June, the board proposed the Ducketts Lane site as an alternative. But that property also has attracted criticism, most from nearby residents worried about parking, traffic and a lack of communication on the part of the board.

"I live on Ducketts Lane, and I never even saw a sign or anything, from day one (informing us)," said Cynthia Callan, an Elkridge resident. "It's like you snuck it in — 'This is what we're planning on doing to ruin your neighborhood.'"

Susan Shaw, who lives catty-corner from the site, attended a public hearing on the matter July 14, and reiterated her sentiments.

"I'm totally against this," she said.

The school, coupled with a possible 2013 redistricting, would provide relief for several overcrowded elementary schools in the northeast region, and another elementary and middle school would follow in later years.

But many at this week's meeting argued that the site is too small for an elementary school, and despite reconfigurations of the site design, there is still no room for additions or more short-term solutions to possible overcrowding.

"Where will the portable (classrooms) go?" asked former Board of Education candidate Leslie Kornreich. "This school will open overcrowded."

Ken Roey, executive director of facilities for the school system, admitted the site was far from perfect, but stressed the importance of the Ducketts Lane property if Howard County wanted a 41st elementary school.

"It's not the most ideal site, but it's suitable," he said, adding that if the board waited until they found a "perfect" site no one objected to, Howard County would never see another school built.

Some at the meeting, including Kornreich, were relieved the school system is moving forward with a much-needed school.

"(The site's) not ideal, and it's an imperfect situation, but I can't imagine a better place for a school than in the community," she said.

Roey and Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning, said the meeting offered many suggestions for the site design, including the proximity of the bus loop to the property line and access to a service road.

While the school board still must approve the site, Ellen Flynn Giles — one of four board members at the meeting — said it offered one of the only chances the system had to open a school by August 2013.

Roey said the next phase of site design would go before the board for approval in September.

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