A refreshing sense of urgency is engulfing discussions between the school board and county government leaders over where to build a new high school and how to pay for it.
As the county formulates plans to some shift school district boundaries to ease crowding, the school system is expediting its review of the two east county sites – one near Rockburn Branch Park in Elkridge and the other in Jessup.
The building, known as High School No. 13, is seen as a relief valve primarily for Howard and Long Reach high schools and by speeding up construction, some controversial redistricting proposals could be avoided.
The county is in the process of buying the Jessup land, along Mission Road near Routes 1, 32 and Interstate 95, and preliminary environmental tests appear to show that a nearby quarry doesn't pose a problem for air quality at the property, a concern of some parents.
The Elkridge site, about a seven-mile drive from the Jessup tract, would be carved from a ribbon of parkland that follows the Patapsco River between Howard and Baltimore counties. Planners have expressed concerns about the need to bridge sensitive wetlands and environmentalists fret about the loss of pristine green space.
Decisions like this aren't a simple coin flip. Both choices require tradeoffs. Weighing many factors, the Jessup property comes out ahead.
In addition to having space for a high school, there is room for an elementary school, playing fields and a public works water storage tank system, necessary to serve the gentrifying Route 1 corridor. Residential areas have co-existed with the quarry for decades; it's estimated the quarry will be in operation for another 14 or 15 years.
In either location, an increase in traffic is to be expected, and road designs would have to change.
Time is running out for a decision. There must be ample opportunity for reviews of design and environmental studies and for public comment. And the county has to present a unified front in making the case for its share of state funding for the school, a process that was underway this week during a meeting of the state Board of Public Works.