With no plans for new school construction beyond 2007, Howard County schools are looking to purchase land because they know it will be needed.
"We need to be prudent about acquiring sites in the future," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. "They are not making any more [land]."
The school system, which has $5 million budgeted for land acquisition, is targeting the area around Turf Valley, an 800-acre planned community on the western edge of Ellicott City with two 18-hole golf courses, a hotel, resort center and homes. The developer, Mangione Family Enterprises, plans additional housing and commercial uses.
The system wants to acquire 40 acres at Marriottsville Road and U.S. 40 - across the street from Turf Valley - in exchange for 10 acres at Tamar Drive and Route 175 in Columbia. The 40 acres in Ellicott City is owned by St. John Baptist Church of Columbia, which would rather build its church in the Long Reach community.
According to the church Web site, the school system will need to pay "at least" $1.5 million to make up the difference in the size of the properties.
The school system also has asked the county Department of Planning and Zoning to reserve a 20-acre parcel in Turf Valley.
David C. Drown, manager of school planning, said that the system is trying to get ahead of the curve.
"We are trying to bank sites even though we do not have plans to use them right now," Drown said.
Cousin added that "banking" land allowed for the construction of Long Reach High School in Columbia, which was built on a site the system previously acquired and had been using for recreational programs.
Additional sites are being looked at near Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia's Town Center and the U.S. 1 corridor in Elkridge.
"If we have the land, banking it is something that future generations can use," Cousin said. "It makes for good planning sense."
Although the land-acquisition projects have been in the negotiation process for months, there is no date of purchase or exchange, said Ken Roey, executive director of facilities and management for the system.
"It's pretty much fluid," said Roey. "Nothing is being brought to the [school] board for approval."
With money to spend, board member Courtney Watson and Chairman Joshua Kaufman have been vocal about using the money, according to Roey.
"There is a lot of growth," said Roey, adding that a main focus of the school system will be in the western portion of the county. "We are aggressively taking a look at several sites."
Land set aside specifically for school construction years ago by the Rouse Co. might be traded to gain land in other areas with growth needs, according to schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan.
The reserved land includes 20 acres at Sweet Hours Way, east of Eden Brook Drive in Dickinson; 11 acres on Vollmerhausen Road, east of Murray Hill Road in Huntington; 11 acres at Eden Brook Drive and Weather Worn Way in Dickinson; 10 acres on Little Patuxent Parkway, near Bright Passage in Clary's Forest; 10 acres at Rustling Leaf and Deepage Drive in Hopewell; and 5 acres at Rivendell and Cedar Lane in Harper's Choice.
Aside from the 20 acres in Dickinson, the system cannot build schools on any of the other sites because those sites do not meet the minimum size requirements used to determine school sites. For example, an elementary school requires at least 15 acres, Caplan said.
"None of these sites would be large enough," Caplan said, adding that they are not in areas with growth problems. "We have not built there because none of these areas are ones where we need seats. Maybe they can be used for a [land] swap."