Construction on a 400-seat addition at Glenelg High School could begin as early as this spring after an administrative judge's ruling against a group of western Howard County residents who opposed a wastewater treatment plant needed for the project.
"[The ruling] tells us we will be able to complete this project that has been on hold for some time," said school Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, who explained that Friday's decision by Judge Neile S. Friedman of the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings in Hunt Valley means that the system can now obtain an environmental discharge permit that will allow for a building permit.
Added Cousin: "We have exceeded the MDE [Maryland Department of the Environment] requirements, and this decision affirms that we have done everything that we were supposed to do to make sure this system is the best it could be."
Glenelg was 27 percent over capacity during the 2004-2005 school year with 1,273 students. The $26.5 million project is expected to be completed by December 2007, Cousin said.
"It's the best news I've heard all day," Glenelg Principal Karl Schindler said yesterday. "It's tremendously overcrowded. A lot of my teachers have to share rooms. We have five portable [classrooms] which have affected junior and senior parking."
Allen Dyer, an attorney representing the four residents questioning potential water contamination and other environmental concerns, said he planned to meet with his clients soon and discuss a course of action that could include seeking a judicial decision from the Howard County Circuit Court.
"You have to exhaust your resources administratively," Dyer explained. "We have done that."
Opposition surfaced four years ago when the school system bought 22.7 acres for a septic system that would serve the school addition. The system agreed to build a second septic system for a planned 32-home community on neighboring land.
New state guidelines forced the school system to redesign the septic systems into a single, shared facility that would serve the school and community.
Opponents challenged a permit issued by the MDE last spring that expanded the amount of treated wastewater discharge the plant would release, from 32,000 to 50,000 gallons a day.
The addition at Glenelg would mean four new science laboratories, as well as at least 50 more seats in the school cafeteria, which now serves 300 students, Schindler said.
"It was all hinged on the judge's decision," Schindler said. "We needed the additions. We can now compete academically against other high schools."
Anthony Gorski, the attorney representing the school system, could not be reached for comment.
Schools, like homes in the western portion of the county, must depend on MDE to approve permits for septic or waste treatment systems.
Dyer said that his clients have not held up the wastewater project at the school.
"That's fiction," Dyer said. "The school system could have built it before. We weren't holding it up."
Cousin disagreed with Dyer.
"If we could have built it, why wouldn't we?" Cousin asked yesterday. "If we didn't have this challenge, we would have had it built."
Cousin estimated that he had overseen more than 100 school projects over the last decade.
"Everyone except for Glenelg has been built on time or under budget," Cousin said.
In September, Friedman ruled that Dyer's clients had legal standing to challenge the wastewater treatment plan. The school system and the MDE had sought to have the case dismissed.