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As questions swirl around search for a Howard County high school site, a third property is studied

The Mission Road site in Jessup has drawn concerns from the community because of its location next to an active quarry.
The Mission Road site in Jessup has drawn concerns from the community because of its location next to an active quarry. (Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The county’s search for the site of its next high school remained in the spotlight last week as word spread that the school board had dropped Jessup’s Mission Road site as an option, only to announce its reconsideration days later, and as County Executive Allan Kittleman announced he wanted to consider space at Troy Park in Elkridge.

Board of Education Chairwoman Cindy Vaillancourt said board members have additional questions they would like to have answered about the Mission Road property before they can make a decision about its suitability for the county’s 13th high school, needed to relieve crowding at other schools.

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Mission Road has faced criticism because it is near an active quarry. Vaillancourt has said the quarry has a mining permit for another 13 to 14 years and anticipates operating between the next five and 14 years.

Board members want an analysis completed by a structural engineer to determine how regular blasting from the quarry would affect the integrity of a building. The board also has questions about traffic and air quality, Vaillancourt said.

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With now only four years to construct a 13th high school by the 2022 deadline, County Executive Allan Kittleman made sticking to that timeline potentially more difficult late last month when he announced that he would not support the proposed site at Rockburn Branch Park.

“Those are not new concerns,” Vaillancourt said. “The process has just not finished, because it’s a more complicated process than usual, and the answers just haven’t been generated yet.”

While Vaillancourt said she doesn’t believe it is the “ideal” site for the school and would rather see one built in Elkridge, she is still open to exploring the site for its use now or for a future school building.

County Executive Allan Kittleman, in a Jan. 12 letter, also directed the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks and Department of Public Works to begin evaluating Troy Park, a 101-acre county-owned park in Elkridge near Route 100 and Interstate 95, as a site.

The new high school is meant to alleviate crowding in the eastern portion of the county, including Jessup and Elkridge. In December, Kittleman announced his opposition to using Rockburn Branch Park as an option for the school, leaving Mission Road, a 77-acre property, as the only researched option.

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Then on Jan. 3, the board abruptly announced that after a closed meeting, it had decided to dismiss the Mission Road site. The decision followed a letter received Dec. 21 from Kittleman to the board demanding an answer about the viability of Mission Road by Jan. 5.

Kittleman said the deadline was meant to give some structure to the location search’s timeline, but was not meant as an ultimatum. Vaillancourt had said she felt the board was “backed into a corner” to make a decision about the site, and that without all necessary information, the board was compelled to say no on Jan. 3.

As the Board of Education continues to assess two sites for High School 13, members of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway and Howard County Conservancy say Howard County Government should replace land at Rockburn Branch Park site if it's selected.

Following word that Kittleman was open to extending the deadline, the board chose to reopen its consideration of the site at its Jan. 11 meeting.

The county must buy the Mission Road property from its owners Gould Property Co., the general partner of Chase Land and Annapolis Junction Holdings, and in his December letter to the board, Kittleman stated that the deal was at a “critical junction” requiring the board’s decision on whether to move forward; Kittleman said the county and Gould had been “close to a decision” about the sale.

Mission Road’s dismissal caused a stir among some Jessup residents.

Resident Becky McKirahan formed the Facebook group “Why not Jessup” in hopes of having the site reconsidered. The group had 159 members as of Tuesday.

“It seems like a lot of people from Elkridge were screaming loudly that they wanted the school in their area,” McKirahan said. “If a school goes in Elkridge, that’s fine, just explain to me why Jessup was not an acceptable location.”

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