In three weeks, Howard County's 12th high school is set to open, the newest building in a system that has seen steady construction over the past 15 years.
Yet, six miles away, school officials are stalled on plans to expand and renovate Glenelg High because of opposition to a proposed wastewater treatment plant vital to the school's addition.
A hearing on neighbors' challenge to the plant began this week before an administrative law judge.
Four residents - who fear water contamination - want Judge Neile S. Friedman to invalidate an environmental permit necessary for the proposed plant, while lawyers for the Maryland Department of the Environment and the school system want the case dismissed. Friedman is expected to issue her written opinion this month.
School officials say Glenelg's addition could be delayed until August 2007.
"Glenelg's situation is heartbreaking in terms of how long it's taking to get resolved," Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, said this week. "We've had students come and go without needed improvements."
The Glenelg conflict is in sharp contrast to the picture at Marriotts Ridge High School in Marriottsville, where construction workers this week were putting the finishing touches on the $34 million building.
Also this week, school board members, along with Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, walked through classrooms, observed the view of the school's fields from the third floor and wondered who would stack the hundreds of books in the media center.
"Teachers are chomping on the bits to come on in," said Lisa Veslany, an assistant principal at Marriotts Ridge.
The school's design resembles Long Reach and Reservoir high schools with its college campus-like atmosphere and amenities, including a skylight atrium that serves as a gathering place for students and provides natural light to upper-floor classrooms.
Marriotts Ridge - at 254,000 square feet - is about 10,000 square feet larger than Reservoir High, which opened in 2002. The difference in size is tied to evolving instructional needs, school officials said.
Patrick Saunderson, the principal, who has been working across the street at Mount View Middle School, said administrators will begin moving into the building this week, while students will get their first look Aug. 29. Teachers return Aug. 22.
"Once the kids get in this building and see it, they'll get excited," said Linda Wise, who was set to be Marriotts Ridge's principal until she was promoted to assistant superintendent for school administration.
Watson said that Marriotts Ridge also faced challenges in the beginning, when neighbors opposed the site. A group known as the Citizens for Adequate School Facilities unsuccessfully challenged the environmental permit process.
"We've had frustrations with this project as with other projects," she said.
Along with legal appeals, there were budget constraints. Marriotts Ridge was to have opened in 2004, but that was pushed to 2005, then to 2006, before the date was restored to 2005.
To ensure the school opened on time, the school board fast-tracked the project, adding several million dollars to the cost of construction. Still, there was a "50-50 percent" risk that the school would open a month or two behind schedule, Watson said.
Ultimately, Marriotts Ridge was built in 20 months, instead of the more usual 24 months, and came in $5 million under budget. The savings were attributed to timely bidding, especially on steel, and a brisk construction market, said Bruce Gist, a school system construction program manager.
By the time Marriotts Ridge opens, the school system will have built 25 schools since 1989.
Also opening Aug. 29 is the replacement building for Cedar Lane School, which serves severely disabled children, on the campus of Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton.