Anne Arundel school board members criticized yesterday a program to privatize military housing at Fort Meade, expressing concern that an influx of new students could strain crowded west county schools.
Army officials estimate that the Residential Communities Initiative to replace and upgrade substandard post housing may bring more than 700 additional students into the county school system in the next three years.
"This project has the potential to disrupt our planning ... for the operating and capital budgets in a major way," said board member Joseph Foster. "Whether we want them or not, these students are going to show up, and we're going to have to accommodate them."
Board members said the school system doesn't have the space or money for the new students.
The project would most directly affect schools in the Meade feeder system, one of the most crowded. Without considering the Fort Meade project, school officials estimate in the latest enrollment projections that Meade Heights Elementary will be 195 pupils over capacity by 2003.
The military program, announced in May, calls for replacement of 2,488 units and construction of 308 units. All new housing will have four bedrooms. Existing one-bedroom and two-bedroom units will be demolished and replaced.
Army officials say Fort Meade has one of the highest percentages of inadequate housing of any post. They estimate that 85 percent to 90 percent of the housing is substandard, but enlisted personnel can't afford off-post rents.
Fort Meade is one of four pilot sites in the Army's Residential Communities Initiative, which allows the Army to lease land to a residential developer who designs, constructs and manages the housing. In May, nearly 300 developers attended a meeting in Baltimore to hear Army officials detail plans for the initiative.
The Army estimates the project will bring $200 million to $300 million in construction work to the county.
"The need to increase quality housing for military personnel is great, but they're doing it at our expense," said board member Michael J. McNelly.
He said Army officials have not provided the board with information on the project and its impact.
"The train is on the track, and we're going to have a large influx of students into Fort Meade without one federal dollar put forth," he said. "I view this as another unfunded mandate, and we're being brought on board after the fact."
The board had invited Fort Meade officials to the meeting to answer questions about the housing program, but Associate Superintendent Kenneth Lawson said Col. Michael Steuart, garrison commander, could not attend.