Farmhouse saved from demolition


The Howard County school board decided last night to build two new schools in North Laurel without destroying a 150-year-old farmhouse that residents had fought to save.

But the compromise does not satisfy all the concerns of the residents, who fear that the revised plan still may cause traffic problems and diminish the area's rural character.

"We're still worried about access to ball fields scheduled to be built on the site . . . and we're afraid that building a two-story middle school so close to the house will harm the views from the house and the scenic road," said Gregory Fries, who has led the community's fight against the plan.

The board's unanimous decision last night permits school officials to go forward with construction of an elementary and a middle school on the 40-acre site off Gorman Road between Interstate 95 and Murray Hill Drive. The middle school is scheduled to open in fall 1997, and the elementary school a year later.

Under the compromise worked out between county and school officials and the Rouse Co., which owns the site, the board will purchase 4.6 acres on the southwest edge of the property, instead of the 4.9 acres that include the farmhouse. Rouse will retain ownership of the farmhouse.

The plan also calls for the county to build an access road to the new schools that will not require school buses to use a winding, narrow portion of Gorman Road, which has been designated a scenic route by the county. The new road likely will be built at the curve on Gorman Road where carjacking victim Pam Basu was killed in 1992, and residents have recommended that the new road be named in her honor.

Residents had feared that construction of two schools at the site would have forced the county to upgrade and improve the section of Gorman Road, which might have permitted new residential development and diminished the rural character of the area.

"We were able to reconfigure the site to address the concerns and keep the project on schedule," William Grau, a site planner in the school system's Office of Planning and Construction, told the board last night.

Mr. Fries acknowledges that the compromise addresses the residents' most significant concerns.

But he said the site plan does not provide for adequate access to ball fields scheduled to be built on the property near the schools. He also questioned the school system's plan to build the two-story middle school next to the old farmhouse and road, instead of building the one-story elementary school there.

"I think that putting the two-story building so close to the house will hurt the view," Mr. Fries said.

In an interview after the board's decision, Mr. Grau said he believes that concerns about access to the ball fields will be addressed as school officials begin to develop more exact plans. But he said that he does not expect any substantial changes in the positioning of the two new schools on the site.

"We considered their ideas, but we felt that we had the best plan," Mr. Grau said. "We felt that it was better to place the middle school in that location. It had a lot to do with future expansion, which we felt would be easier to do with this configuration."

Mr. Grau and Mr. Fries said they plan to work together in the next few months to try to resolve the residents' remaining concerns.

Throughout the disputes, education officials and residents have agreed that new schools are desperately needed in the southeastern portion of the county.

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