Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced Friday that Troy Park in Elkridge is his preferred location for a 14th high school in the county.
While the location is Ball’s preference, the decision is ultimately up to the Howard County Public School System and the Board of Education, which will soon begin the process of determining the best site.
“The need for additional school capacity is one of the most pressing issues in our county,” Ball said during a news conference Friday at Troy Park. “Even with [a 13th high school under construction in Jessup] on the horizon, it is clear the need is significant in the northeastern region of our county.”
“Howard County is the fastest growing community in our state,” Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said at the news conference. “This growth helps to keep our county dynamic and prosperous but at the same time puts pressure on our school system to add capacity and resources to serve our growing student body.”
A 14th high school is in the Howard County school system’s fiscal 2022 long-range master plan, which covers 2022 to 2031. The need, according to Martirano and Ball, stems from a combination of population growth in Howard County and projected increases in enrollment.
According to the most recent Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance chart — a set of regulations that weighs residential construction’s impact on nearby roads and school populations — five of the 12 high schools in Howard County will exceed 115% capacity by the 2023-24 academic year. The chart did not include the students that will be redistricted for the coming school in Jessup, expected to open in fall 2023.
The most recent high school built in Howard County was Marriotts Ridge in Marriottsville, which opened in 2005.
Board of Education Chairperson Mavis Ellis said this is an important step as the county continues to see “rapid growth.”
“In acknowledgement of the importance of another future high school to accommodate projected needs, we know land is scarce in Howard County, so it is critical that we preserve and land bank sites for future schools to meet anticipated enrollment needs,” Ellis said.
Martirano said Friday that school system projections show an additional 5,800 students in the next 10 years, which represents a need of 4,600 seats in school buildings. Howard County’s systemwide enrollment was nearly 59,000 students for the past academic year.
“In general, population growth is most concentrated in the eastern regions of our county, which drives a need for additional school capacity in those areas,” Martirano said.
In a letter sent to the Board of Education on Oct. 14, Ball said the task force for the 14th high school, which was created in March 2018, also considered Rockburn Branch Park, Timbers at Troy Golf Course and a UPS site on Washington Boulevard — all of which are in Elkridge.
“I believe Troy Park stands alone as the best option for the location of [a 14th high school],” Ball wrote. “Troy Park presents the most cost-efficient, least intrusive option for [a 14th high school], minimizing land acquisition costs associated with some sites while avoiding major impacts on surrounding communities and homeowners.”
Ball said Friday that Troy Park has the space for at least 46 acres of land for a main school building, athletic fields and parking. He also said the location is “the most environmentally friendly site,” according to multiple assessments done since the task force was formed.
Last month, the school board voted to put the 14th high school into the long-range master plan in the fiscal 2022 budget. The long-term plan represents the goals and needs of the school in the capital budget.
“If we don’t put this in our long-term plan, the county does not need to recommend a site,” school board member Chao Wu said Friday about why he pushed to include a 14th high school in the long-range master plan. “Only if we put it in our long-term plan does it compel the county government to recommend a site for the school.”
While a high school in Elkridge won’t be built for several years, Wu said it’s crucial to start the process early.
“We can’t just wait for the last moment when every school is overcrowded,” he said. “It takes at least five years to get a school after we approve the funding. It’s also important because we need to secure the land.”
A 14th high school isn’t the only new facility in future plans. In addition to the high school in Jessup, Martirano said the school system has determined the need for six future elementary school sites and one middle school site. The acquisition of one of those — an elementary school at Turf Valley in Ellicott City — is “in the process,” Ball said Friday.
Renovations and additions are also underway at Burleigh Manor Middle in Ellicott City and Hammond High in Columbia. Specifically, the renovation at Hammond has been a topic of discussion for more than a decade and has been pushed back multiple times. Construction is set to end in time for the 2023-24 academic year.
The process moving forward for the school system and the board to approve a site for a 14th high school will begin soon, with the Site Review Committee considering different locations and giving its recommendations.