Board approves design for Elkridge middle school

Plans are steadily progressing for a new middle school in the Oxford Square development near Elkridge, designed to relieve school overcrowding in northeastern Howard County.

The county Board of Education Thursday approved design development plans for the school, moving the project into the construction document phase.

Bruce Gist, director of school construction, said system staff hoped to be able to bid the project in January 2013 and open the school in August 2014.

Board member Allen Dyer was the only board member to vote against the plans, citing a continued concern with placing the school in the vicinity of railroad tracks.

"Putting this school here makes the area attractive; it makes it an attractive nuisance," Dyer said. "You're attracting people to live next to the school, which is next to the railroad tracks. I don't think that's a responsible way for us to be building our school, putting children and families in harm's way, unnecessarily."

Scott Washington, manager of design and preconstruction services for the school system, said the school would be situated between one-half and three-fourths of a mile from the tracks, when only 1,000 feet of distance is required. Board member Janet Siddiqui pointed out that the school is the part of the development farthest from the tracks.

The proximity of the railroad tracks has been an issue for the school board in the past.Last year, the board wanted to build a new elementary school at the site, but changed its mind when it became clear that theCSX Corp.was considering a nearby site for a heavy rail, intermodal facility.

The board decided to build the 600-seat elementary school elsewhere — on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge.

Last month, CSX announced it was no longer interested in the site for its facility.

Meanwhile, the plans for the middle school move forward. Gist said the school, designed by TCA Architects, would cost $33.5 million. That is close to the $34.6 million available, $4 million of which come from the Oxford developers, Preston Capital Partners.

The school, which Gist said would be certified LEED Silver because of its green features, would include a rain water harvesting system for site irrigation and a geothermal HVAC system. Gist also said the aesthetic appearance of the school was largely impacted by the design of other buildings in the Oxford Square development.

"We've added the site masonry to enhance (the school) and to blend in with the neighborhood," Gist said. "We have a partnership with the developers of Oxford Square, and we worked extensively with them because they were so cooperative and generous in working the land transaction with us, we felt obligated to accommodate the architectural aesthetic of the neighborhood, as they requested, to a degree."

Board Chairwoman Sandra French was absent for Thursday's vote.

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