School officials, desperately seeking sites for a western middle andnortheastern elementary school, are now looking at county government-owned parkland.

School and county officials are considering part of Benson Branch Park, 337 acres east of Triadelphia and Folly Quarter roads, for the western middle school, and part of Rockburn Park, 387 acres northwest of the intersection of Landing and Montgomery roads, for the northeastern elementary.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker is receptive to the idea but said he has received complaints from Elkridge area residents who don't want the northeastern school on park property.

"How long is open space open space? The concern of the people is, is it only open space until you want to build something on it?" Ecker said.

The county would have to win approval from three state agencies and agree to replace the land before either property could be used for a school, sincestate Program Open Space money was used in acquiring land for both parks.

The county government "must replace the land they propose toconvert with land of equal (environmental) education and recreation value," said Michael J. Nelson, Department of Natural Resources deputy assistant secretary for public lands.

Nelson said the state agencies have been flexible in the past with school sites. For example, Harford County was allowed to use Program Open Space money to expand aschool gym that was open for community recreation use on weekends.

The school board is committed to joint use and has begun expanding the size of gyms in planned schools to allow for community recreation, school board chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig pointed out.

She addedthat a school site on parkland could contribute to the development of the park because playing fields will be built for the school.

The school system requires approximately 15 acres for an elementary school and approximately 27 acres for a middle school.

But it's not as simple as just finding a parcel that size, said Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations and the man responsible for identifying school sites.

"It has to be the right site, the right size, has to meet the geo-technical criteria, has to be configured right. And someone has to be willing to sell for a price thatis reasonable in light of our appraisals," he said.

The school system also seeks a western elementary, northeastern middle and westernhigh school by 1995. But the western middle and northeastern elementary schools, scheduled to open in September 1993, are the most urgently needed.

Time is running out in the search for land, since it takes 15 to 18 months to build a school, Cousin pointed out. To get thebuildings open by September 1993, school officials need to find sites by late this fall.

"We're looking at all undeveloped land," Cousin said.

He would not rule out consideration of an unused section of the Alpha Ridge landfill on Marriottsville Road for the middle school, although he characterized the site as "less than ideal."

If sites aren't found in time, more students may end up in portable classrooms.

"If worst came to worst, I'd guess what we'd have to do is put portable classrooms at other schools," said Kendig.

School officials thought in April they had found a site that would accommodate both the western middle and the northern elementary school, scheduledto open in September 1994.

But negotiations for the 72-acre tracton Frederick Road between Mariottsville and Folly Quarter roads broke down when owner Andrew J. Harbin of Ellicott City reportedly asked for double the appraised value of the land.

Harbin could not be reached for comment Monday.

No law bars the school board from payingmore than the appraised value for a property, but the board has to be fiscally responsible in how it spends public money, Cousin said.

The assistant superintendent said he wouldn't say "never" to the prospects for acquiring the Harbin property.

"But to proceed," he added, "we'd have to have some faint hope."

County Councilman CharlesC. Feaga, R-5th, who owns land across Frederick Road from the Harbinproperty, said he would consider sharing county park property for schools.

"Being realistic," he said, "we may have to do that type ofthing in the future.

"We have acquired a great deal of parkland and I don't think there's anything sacred about parkland that there shouldn't be a school there."

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