New elementary school site in Elkridge draws criticism

A new site for a proposed elementary school in the Elkridge area, selected after the school system's first choice was dropped because it was too close to a proposed railway facility, ran into objections of its own at a county Board of Education hearing Thursday, July 14.

After a potential school site on Coca-Cola Drive drew criticism because of its close proximity to a proposed site for a CSX Corp. facility, the board and school system staff proposed another site in Elkridge, on 10.1 acres of land in Elkridge on Ducketts Lane.

However, the new site for a 600-seat elementary school in the overcrowded Northeast Region was challenged by a handful of area residents at the hearing, who worried about parking, traffic and a lack of community involvement in the site selection process.

Susan Shaw, who lives adjacent to the property, said she was disappointed in the board for not including the public in the process earlier. She asked if any board members lived in the Elkridge area, and when member Frank Aquino, who lives in Ellicott City, said he lived the closest to the area, Shaw invited board members to her home to sit and watch the traffic, which she called out of control.

"We couldn't even get speed bumps, and now we're going to have that added traffic," Shaw said. "I think it's been poor planning."

Suzanne Straub, who lives on Lori Lane adjacent to the site, said the streets in the area already are congested, and she failed to see how placing an elementary school so close to three other elementary schools — Elkridge, Bellows Spring and Rockburn — could be effective.

Straub, whose son previously attended Rockburn Elementary, said there already are many accidents at the intersection of Ducketts Lane and Route 1.

She suggested the school system save money by redistricting students farther west.

Becky Kimball, who has lived in the Elkridge neighborhood for 20 years and no longer has children at the elementary school level, said she understood the board's difficult position — all the "good sites" are already developed in the area, she conceded. Still, she said, any person attending a back-to-school or community event at any of the elementary schools in the area knows that parking is at a premium.

"It has me very concerned about the quality of life that we have enjoyed in our neighborhood for so many years," she said.

Despite their misgivings, the residents agreed there was a desperate need for a new school in the area.

Val McGuire, representing the Greater Elkridge Community Association, said the organization shared the board's desire to open a new elementary school in the region by fall of 2013, but was concerned about the size of the site, because, she said, board policy dictates that a much larger property would be needed.

Ken Roey, executive director of facilities, later explained the board's guidelines for preferred site size — that 10 acres were need for 100 students, and one more acre was needed for each additional 100 students — were not binding.

As for concerns about traffic, he said traffic studies would have to be conducted as part of the development process.

To address the residents' concerns about the new site, school officials suggested a community meeting be held. A date for that meeting has not been set.

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