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School's growth plan of concern


Woodmont Academy needs space to grow, and school leaders believe they've found that in Glenwood.

Glenwood residents, however, are less than pleased at the prospect of a multi- building campus in their rural neighborhood.

It's shaping up to be a difficult, emotionally charged situation.

Residents - about a hundred of whom have signs in their yards proclaiming their opposition to the school's plans - are organized to protest. They fear a dangerous increase in traffic on Dorsey Mill Road, where the private Catholic school bought 53.5 acres last year for about $1 million. Residents also worry about the additional need for water and septic systems in an area without public utilities.

Woodmont supporters believe the school's expansion would benefit western Howard County and the families faced with long waiting lists at other parochial schools. They attribute residents' reaction to fear of the unknown.

The two sides will argue the case Oct. 19 before the Howard County Planning Board, which will consider Woodmont Academy's request for a special exception to build on the site. The land is zoned for residential use.

"We have no objection to the school ... but for that site, this use is way out of line," said Vince Doran, a member of the Preserve Scenic Glenelg/Glenwood Association, which formed in response to Woodmont Academy's plans.

"Absent major changes in the road system there, it's a really bad location for something with that much traffic," said Doran, who worries about accidents.

Woodmont Academy, which offers classes in kindergarten through eighth grade, sits on 7 acres in the Baltimore County area of Woodstock. The school has grown from 49 students in 1995, when it opened, to 208 this fall.

Officials want to move the school to Glenwood and expand. They plan to open with three buildings on the land in 2003 and eventually construct five more to serve 1,100 students.

Keith Laser, Woodmont Academy's principal, said that most of the school's students live in Howard County.

"Once this school's there and has established its reputation for excellence and as a good neighbor ... it will be a source of pride for the Glenwood/Glenelg community," he said. "There's no real self-serving in this: We just feel as Catholics and Christians that we need to help families, and help families educate their children."

Jack Hilbert, chairman of the Preserve Scenic Glenelg/Glenwood Association, said residents aren't opposed to development on the site. But area roads - which are narrow and winding - aren't up to extra traffic from a school that size, he said. He estimates that the academy would add an extra 4,000 car trips into and out of the area per day.

Laser said the school would account for far less traffic. Families carpool to the academy, he said, and Howard County provides bus service for private schools if it is financially feasible. "Our goal would be to have 50 percent of the kids arrive on the bus," Laser said.

He also said that engineers hired by Woodmont Academy will ensure that the school wouldn't interfere with residents' wells or septic systems.

Residents' long-term concern is that the school would expand beyond 1,100 students, since the land is available. If officials added high school grades, traffic would increase even more, Doran said.

Although Laser said the Archdiocese of Baltimore has not given permission for Woodmont Academy to offer high school classes, Hilbert argued that it is possible in the future.

Woodmont Academy parents say the proposed move to Glenwood is needed because - with the exception of a few classes - Howard County Catholic schools don't have room for more students.

Brian Auger, who has two children at the academy, said he called every parish school in the county before he moved to Columbia in 1997 and found waiting lists at all. He's grateful to have discovered Woodmont Academy and thinks expansion opponents are really against any development on the site.

"They're trying to put together a lot of arguments that push emotional buttons," he said.

Joan Warfield Carney, who has lived in Lisbon all her life and whose second-grade son attends Woodmont, said services haven't caught up with the growth in western Howard.

"We don't have many private school options out there," she said. "It's just an excellent school, so I think people are being really shortsighted in trying to push it away."

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