As Carroll County's only private nonreligious school plans its new location a few miles outside Westminster, opposition is building from neighbors of the rural site.
The Montessori School of Westminster has settled on 27 acres of farmland along Hughes Shop Road about 1 1/2 miles north of Route 140. The 25-year-old school expects to open a $1.2 million building in September. It has 125 pupils in two locations and would like all its classrooms under one roof. The school has been leasing space for 25 years from St. Benjamin's Lutheran Church and Stone Chapel United Methodist Church.
"I have no problem with Montessori, but I just don't want a school in my back yard," said Terry Reeves, whose 7-acre property adjoins the school site. "I didn't move here to have a school 300 yards from me."
According to county zoning regulations, a school is permitted on agricultural land.
"We are a permitted use that is both appropriate and compatible with local zoning," said Clark Shaffer, attorney for the Montessori School. "Schools are considered good things in a residential area. We are going to meet all governmental standards that are in place. We are subject to all the regulations as to traffic, water and septic like everybody else who wants to build in Carroll County."
Architects have designed a 12,000-square-foot, one-story building with capacity for 185 children, ranging from preschoolers to eighth-graders.
"We have tried to give residents an idea of what kind of school we are," said Nancy Title, headmistress. "This will definitely be a change for the neighborhood, but it will be a good one. We want to work things out so this goes well for both of us."
While it will have a capacity for 60 more pupils, the school has no plans to grow by that number anytime soon. The building will have seven classrooms, a library and offices, but no cafeteria or gymnasium.
"We have been around for 25 years and we are just at 125 now," said Stephanie Brewster, the school's business administrator. "We have always been a proponent of slow, gradual growth."
Because the school would not provide transportation, neighbors are predicting a large increase in traffic on the country road and long delays entering Route 140, where there is no signal.
"Traffic onto 140 is a nightmare in the morning," said Reeves. "I can't imagine doubling the cars on this road every day."
Kristie Killam has seen no significant traffic increase since she moved to Hughes Shop Road 10 years ago, but she expects traffic to double when the school opens.
"This is an older neighborhood where houses are closer to the road," she said. "Traffic will have a big impact."
The school has commissioned a traffic study, a requirement as the project moves through the county's development review process. A site-plan hearing is set for 10: 15 a.m. Thursday at the County Office Building.
"Water is my biggest concern," said Norman Doggett, who moved to a new home on Hughes Shop Road in December. "I was told there would be one more house in back of me and that was it. Not even a year later, I have this school dumped on me."
Public water and sewer are not available, and neighbors question how a large project will affect the water table.
"There has to be a more appropriate location with public water and sewer," Killam said.
Many fear the city will eventually extend public water and sewer lines to the area and that they will be forced into costly hook-ups. The city's service area ends at Meadow Branch Road, nearly a mile from the school site.
"The school site is not even close to our planned service area," said Thomas B. Beyard, city director of planning and public works. "There is no contemplation of extending our lines further in the master plan."
Killam fears that could change if the school grows.
"This is only 27 acres, with finite water resources and only so much ability to deal with sewage," Killam said. "We have no written assurances the school won't grow. It has the potential for growth. It will have to grow to pay off its loan."
The school has raised about $200,000 and plans to borrow the rest through industrial revenue bonds issued by Westminster. A public hearing on the bond proposal is set for 7 p.m. tomorrow at City Hall, before the council votes on the issue.
Westminster considered a number of factors in its decision to issue the bonds, Beyard said. The school has been in the city for 25 years. Many of its pupils and faculty reside in Westminster. It actively looked for sites within the city and found none suitable.
"Our bond counsel advised us that so long as there were these connections, we could sponsor [the bond issue]," Beyard said. "There is no effect on city finances, but it allows the organization to sell the bonds at a better interest rate."
Beyard expects "a lively hearing" tomorrow with as many proponents as opponents. But, he stressed the discussion will be limited to financing.
"This hearing is not the appropriate forum for site-plan issues, which the city has no control over," Beyard said. "This is strictly to discuss economic development revenue bonds."
Councilmen Damian Halstad and Greg Pecoraro, who both have children at Montessori School, have recused themselves from the vote.
"Many people think city money is involved in this project, but it is only an economic development tool provided by the state," Beyard said. "Many astute organizations utilize it. The city is held harmless and makes no profit. It is used to encourage development."
The city has issued bonds for as much as $10 million for projects at Western Maryland College and Carroll Lutheran Village.