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Howard school board approves Elkridge elementary school design

While the county Board of Education still hasn't decided whether to build a new elementary school on a site near a proposed CSX Corp. transportation facility in Elkridge, members did approve a school design that could be used on several different types of sites.

The schematic design was approved unanimously at the board's June 9 meeting. The new elementary school will be two stories, with a capacity for 600 students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

The 101,014-square-foot school will feature an outdoor learning courtyard and activity and storage space for the county Parks and Recreation Program. Situated along a central hallway or "spine," the school's classroom will be gathered in clusters.

"This clear diagram provides safety and security for the students and promotes ease of understanding of location for new students and for visitors," said Melisa Wilfong, senior associate at Grimm & Parker Architects.

Bruce Gist, director of school construction, said the goal for the school was to make it the county's first gold-certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) school, meaning it meets certain environmentally friendly building requirements.

The school is aimed at alleviating overcrowding in the northeastern region, particularly at Bellows Spring and Elkridge elementary schools.

Construction could begin as soon as June 2012, said Ken Roey, executive director of facilities, and the building could be completed at early as August 2013, with the school opening that semester.

However, that window is rapidly closing, as board members, leery of building close to the CSX facility, have not yet decided on the 20-acre site on Coca-Cola Drive, and the schedule for site approval is becoming "high risk," Roey said. The school system is considering three other locations in the region, which have not been disclosed to the public. Those options will be discussed further in closed session next week, Roey said.

"I believe that at least one of the alternatives will get us to a June 2012 start," he said. "I'm cautiously optimistic at this point."

Redistricting looms

Even as they grappled with choosing a new site for a school to ease overcrowding in northeast Howard County, board members were briefed on a new study warning of overcrowding elsewhere as well.

The 2010-2011 feasibility study, which reviews long-term capital planning and redistricting options, found that if current trends continue, elementary enrollment will increase by 3,724 students by 2020. That would put all county elementary schools over capacity, said Joel Gallihue, manager of school planning, who presented the study at the June 9 meeting, and could lead to redistricting.

Redistricting in 2012 could potentially include students being shifted from Guilford to Atholton and Hammond elementaries, from Atholton and Bollman to Guilford elementaries, from Forest Ridge to Bollman elementary and from Laurel Woods to Forest Ridge. Students may also be moved from Gorman Crossing and Hammond elementaries to Fulton, and from Fulton Elementary to Dayton Oaks and Pointers Run. Redistricting in other regions would follow in 2013-2015.

Gallihue said redistricting was likely to occur westward, in order to take advantage of capacity available in the west. If redistricting did occur in 2012, and if the new school in the northeast region opened in 2013, overcrowding would be alleviated, Gallihue said.

Schools Superintendent Sydney Cousin stressed that the feasibility study was just a planning document.

A committee must be formed to explore the need presented in the study, with the board deciding whether or not to pursue redistricting in the fall. Cousin will announce the committee at the board's next meeting June 23, and community feedback would be gathered throughout the summer.

"This is one of the most emotional issues we go through with the board and the system," Cousin said. "If I had an alternative I wouldn't move anybody, but that's not a possibility unless we spend capital dollars" on portable classrooms and school additions.

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