Despite emotional pleas against the plan, Howard County school administrators will recommend tomorrow that the Alternative Learning Center be built off Route 108 behind the Board of Education building in Ellicott City.
School officials suggested in February that the center for disruptive and emotionally disturbed youths be built on 14 acres of a 64-acre parcel the school system owns behind its headquarters and the Applications Research Laboratory.
The land is surrounded by the upscale neighborhoods of Gaither Hunt, Gaither Farm Estates and Manor Lane.
Residents of those communities adamantly oppose placing the center there, saying it isn't safe to have such a potentially volatile population of students close to so many homes and children.
More than 30 people spoke against the plan at a hearing last month. Residents also have circulated a petition against the plan.
Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said the system has heard the concerns, but that no other feasible space is available.
"We have looked at several different site alternatives, and they were eliminated for various reasons," Cousin said.
Some of the sites administrators considered were suggested by opponents to the plan, Cousin said.
Cousin said the original recommendation is the most viable because the system owns the land, and the site is centrally located and has enough space to accommodate the building.
The center is to open in the fall of 2001 with a capacity of about 230 of the system's most challenging students.
The three programs slated to use the building are: Gateway, for students with behavior problems; Bridges, for students with emotional problems; and Passages, a new program for students being released from detention centers.
Residents said those students could pose a threat to the children in their neighborhoods.
At least two school board members said the concerns aren't justified.
"I don't see the threat to the community," said board member Jane B. Schuchardt. "I think people have concerns that aren't there."
Schuchardt said she had visited both existing programs and found the students well-supervised and learning.
"And as far as the Passages program, those kids are in our high schools right now," Schuchardt said.
Board member Stephen C. Bounds also said he supported the center on the site.
"I believe we can do this in a way -- leave the vast majority of the trees untouched, put up some discreet fencing -- they won't even know it's there," Bounds said.
The board will vote on the site at 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow.
It's imperative that the site be picked that day, Cousin said.
"We have a real tight schedule for the completion of the building," he said. "We don't have time to start another search."
Cousin and Bounds said staff recommendations aren't always accepted by the board.
The board also will take up the issue of stadium lighting at high schools tomorrow.
Administrators are recommending again that board members decide against the high school lights.
In 1987 and 1989, proponents of the idea asked the school board to provide lights so schools could have games at night. The requests were denied.
Since then, the issue has come up periodically at board meetings. The system's Interscholastic Athletics Advisory Committee and the Glenelg High School Booster Club asked the system recently to reconsider the idea.