Two critics of the proposed western middle school site got no argument from the school board Thursday about the property's defects, but board members pleaded that they are priced out of the market for the best land.
The 72-acre site on Frederick Road between Marriottsville and Folly Quarter roads drew criticism as unacceptable for the western middle and northern elementary schools because of wetlands; an underground natural gas line; proximity to the Friendly Inn, a neighborhood pub; and potential development that may be generated by having schools nearby.
"How in the world did this site ever get brought before the Boardof Education?" asked Thompson Drive resident Larry L. Yeager.
Board members replied that they desperately need a school site -- the western middle school is due to open in 1993, the elementary school oneyear later -- and land owners won't sell at prices the board can afford.
"There are prime properties available, but they're building houses on them . . . we have to look at second-tier properties," boardVice Chairman Dana F. Hanna told Yeager and Folly Quarter Road resident George K. Reynolds III, who also had objections.
Real estate broker Timothy Feaga, son of Republican 5th District County CouncilmanCharles Feaga, said similar land would likely bring $11,000 to $12,000 an acre in the current market.
School officials won't say how much they expect to pay for the site, but they have 60 days to complete engineering assessments there before settling on a price with ownerAndrew J. Harbin. The school system is also legally required to get two appraisals of land it plans to buy. Harbin, an Ellicott City resident who has owned the tract since 1951, could not be reached for comment on the land's asking price.
A percolation test that measures how rapidly ground absorbs water is needed because the site is abouta half-mile beyond the public water and sewer service area.
Yeager, president of the county chapter of the Professional Engineering Society, said the land may not pass a percolation test. "You can stand in Charlie Feaga's cow pasture across the road and see the plants (that grow in wetlands)."
Yeager also questioned planning a school onland that has an underground natural gas transmission line crossing it.
Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations, said the gas line may not be a problem because a gas transmission line between Howard High School's athletic field and school building was used for many years without problems.