As the window closes for the Board of Education to stay on track for the opening of Howard County’s 13th high school in 2022, chairwoman Cindy Vaillancourt said the county is “combing through” its land banks and other parcels on the market to evaluate options outside the two sites already proposed.
The board has not made any official decision on a site for the new high school, which will open in 2022, two years earlier than expected. A public hearing to discuss the site selection was originally scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 7, but postponed to a later date after the board received new information they felt the community needed to know before the public hearing.
Vaillancourt said the board was informed that there might be “other potential possibilities” for the high school site.
The two sites currently on the table for High School 13 include a portion of Rockburn Park, at Landing and Montgomery roads, and another site at Mission Road in Jessup.
“All other leads are being pursued aggressively,” Vaillancourt said. “If something has happened that takes one or both of those sites out of contention, if another potential site has been identified or if one of those sites can now be finalized, then the community ought to have that information before the public hearing.”
Vaillancourt said she and her colleagues are working to identify all options and investigate and review possibilities, some of which were submitted by the public.
“Sometimes, you spend a great deal of time and effort reviewing just to figure out it won’t work,” she said.
In Elkridge, residents are petitioning officials to remove Rockburn Park from consideration to prevent development on county parkland.
Elkridge resident Nikki Marlatt-Young created the “Save Rockburn Park” petition Nov. 29 on Change.org, garnering 2,566 signatures, exceeding its 2,500-signature goal as of Friday afternoon. The petition was addressed to the Board of Education, Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and the Howard County Council as well as state delegates and the Department of Natural Resources.
In the petition, Marlatt-Young asks others to join the effort to save the county park from being “destroyed by a high school.” She also created a “Save Rockburn Park” Facebook page, with more than 1,400 members.
The Patapsco Heritage Greenway and Howard County Conservancy previously advocated the county should replace the parkland if the board decides to use at least half of the 90-acre parcel.
Rockburn Park is a popular attraction for nature lovers and newcomers, said Marlatt-Young, who lives nearby on Old Washington Road. Nine miles of trails and pathways are used for walking, running, mountain biking and hiking, while communities rely on fields for sports, including baseball, football, soccer and disc golf.
“Homeowners in that general surrounding park area made a major life purchase on a home they will most likely live in most of their lives,” Marlatt-Young said in the petition. “Elkridge isn’t a place people just move in and out of. People move here because they feel at home here, for the convenience, the great school and the great people.”
Jessie Ryan, of Elkridge, said there’s no denying the school system needs a new high school; however, taking away parkland harms the park’s “unique sense of integration.” Ryan recently joined an all-women’s mountain biking group, Muddy Pedals, which uses some of Rockburn’s trails for its beginners.
The co-location of trails to recreational fields also introduces parents and siblings to other park amenities.
“On countless occasions, I have redirected parents with young toddlers to a serene walk that would otherwise be inaccessible to them, but is convenient,” Ryan said. “A disjointed parcel of land does not equal the park integration and wetlands protection of Rockburn. I would like to preserve our parks for future generations.”
Parent and Elkridge resident Drew Roth said “nobody” wants a high school in a park, “but that’s all we’ve got left as an option.” Elkridge needs a new high school, he said.
“In 2022, when the next high school will open at the earliest, [Howard and Long Reach High] schools will have enough students to fill another high school,” Roth said. “It does not make sense to build the next high school clear down at the other end of Route 1 because that’s not where the students who attend it live.”
Roth said it is feasible for a high school to be located at Rockburn Park and still have a thriving park.
“It’s either no high school or no park, as [the Save Rockburn Park group] presents it,” he said. “That’s false. It is perfectly possible to build a high school in a portion of Rockburn Park and replace the land used with other land that is just as good.”
School system spokesman Brian Bassett said the Board of Education’s public hearing and work session will be rescheduled some time in 2018 and the community will receive advanced notice. The public can submit input any time to the board at email@example.com.