State highway officials say they will reconsider plans to erect a chain-link fence to separate Shiloh Middle from the soon-to-be-constructed Hampstead bypass after Carroll County school officials asked the state for a more substantial buffer between the school and the busy highway.
"We're confident there are very good solutions that can be developed" to address local worries about safety and noise concerns, Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan said Friday.
A solid 8-foot wall or a wrought-iron fence with heavy landscaping are two alternatives that will be considered, Flanagan said. The contractor, in consultation with local school officials, may also weigh other options, he added.
Construction is set to begin early next year on the $76 million Hampstead bypass, a 4 1/2 - mile-long road that has been nearly 40 years in the planning.
During a community meeting this fall at the middle school in Hampstead, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker and parents discovered that the state's plans called for separating the school's property from the bypass with only a chain-link fence instead of a concrete sound barrier, which they would prefer.
"The planned bypass borders Shiloh Middle School and will be located only 25 yards from our school's outdoor fields," Ecker wrote in a letter to Flanagan after that October meeting. "I am concerned about the safety of our students as well as the sound created by the major highway."
In his letter, Ecker asked state transportation officials to re-evaluate the decision to use a chain-link fence instead of a sound barrier to buffer the school. But according to Flanagan, the school property does not meet the state's criteria for a sound barrier.
Citing as an example Howard High along Route 100 in Howard County, Flanagan told Ecker in a Dec. 10 letter that State Highway Administration policy "does not provide for noise mitigation for recreation fields."
Shiloh Middle School Principal Tom Hill said many parents at the community meeting in October wondered why the school wouldn't be separated from the bypass by something more substantial than a chain-link fence.
"They felt it was important to have the same barrier between the school and the bypass as would be between residences and the bypass to provide a barrier ... for the safety of the children," he said.
School board President Gary W. Bauer agreed. "It's a safety issue," he said. "They need to look at this and try to establish a barrier more substantial than a fence and shrubbery."