School buying county property


A Baltimore County religious school is buying surplus Howard County government land for a new campus in Cooksville, solving three separate problems.

Woodmont Academy, now in Woodstock, would pay $1.5 million for about 62 acres along Route 144, subject to approval by the county Board of Appeals of a conditional use to allow a school. The contract was signed last week, said James M. Irvin, county public works director, and Woodmont Principal Michele L. Blum.

The Catholic school owns a 53-acre residentially zoned tract in western Howard between Routes 32 and 97, but nearby residents have fought a campus there, noting potential traffic problems.

The Cooksville deal would solve that dispute and also help the county, which has been selling surplus properties to raise money for a planned government office complex in Ellicott City.

And the purchase would solve a major problem for the fast-growing parochial school, now crammed on 7 acres off Old Court Road near the Patapsco River.

Blum said that enrollment has jumped from 49 pupils in 1995 when the school was founded to an enrollment of 232 this year in kindergarten through eighth grade.

"We expect 270 next year, and we need to add on two more classrooms," she said. "It is exciting that we're growing."

Next year, each grade through the sixth will have two classes.

Obtaining approvals and building a campus likely would take at least three years, Blum said.

Brian Auger of Columbia, who has a third-grader at Woodmont and a daughter who attended the school in its first year, said a new campus would add a lot.

"It's nice to have athletic fields and room," Auger said.

Peggy Preis, a Lisbon resident with four children at Woodmont, said, "I'm very excited."

The new location would cut her commute in half and enable her children to attend more after-school activities.

Most of Howard County's surplus property sales, which raised $7.3 million, were announced late last year.

The Cooksville deal took longer, said Woodmont attorney David Carney, because of concern over possible environmental contamination. The county has used the land for fire department training.

Irvin said the county had an environmental expert check the land, and Carney said the school is having its expert do further work.

No problems have been found, both said.

"The monitoring wells all checked out," Carney said.

Irvin said the county plans to move its fire training activities to a site near Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville, where a combined police/fire training academy will be built.

"There should not be any controversy at this [Cooksville] location" because it is next to a county maintenance yard, and between Interstate 70 and Frederick Road, Carney said.

Surrounding farms are under agricultural protection easements.

If the deal goes through as expected, Woodmont likely would sell the other western Howard parcel for development.

Betty Smith Adams, a lawyer who lives near that site, said 26 new homes there (the maximum number zoning would allow) is fine with her and the Preserve Scenic Glenelg/Glenwood Association.

"I think it's [Cooksville] a good location," she said. "Our concerns about traffic, about safety and about road configurations don't exist at that [Cooksville] site. I wish them a lot of luck."

County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, who represents the area, also approved of the deal.

"I've all along said that if the county has property we're not going to do anything with, we should sell it," said Kittleman, a Republican.

Irvin said Howard plans to spend some money from surplus property sales late this year to begin planning and developing the 25-acre office complex site on Rogers Avenue, near the existing county government complex.

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