To Baltimore County, it's a bargain too good to pass up:
Officials want to buy a 241-acre tract nestled in the farmlands of northern Baltimore County, with horse stables and 12 acres, as an ideal site for a much-needed elementary school.
The county has agreed to pay $1.9 million.
"It's got incredible potential," says Wayne Harmon, director of the county Recreation and Parks Department.
But some neighbors say that the county should roll up its plans for a county school and park at the Bacon Hall farm -- which would be welcome in many other communities -- and take them somewhere else.
"If you put a school and park in there it would ruin the rural character of the community," said William Witte, a spokesman for the fledgling Bacon Hall Preservation Group.
A park and elementary school ruin a community?
That's right, said Mr. Witte, before joining about 150 other people in a public debate last night on whether the county should buy the farm.
He and other opponents fear that the park will bring unwanted crowds, and the school unwanted traffic on the area's rural roadways.
"The road network is insufficient and there's a question about the adequacy of the water supply," said Mr. Witte, a tax assessor who has lived in the community six years.
But many parents of schoolchildren and other community leaders feel the school and park would be welcome additions.
"I would rather see a beautiful park and a school than to see the site carved up into quarter-acre lots and developed into houses 10 or 12 years from now," said Larry Griffin, PTA president for the area's overcrowded Fifth District Elementary School.
Baltimore County officials say they want to buy the tract, along the west side of Interstate 83 just north of Bacon Hall Road in Hereford, because the county owns little parkland in that area and a school is badly needed.
"We'd like to do something that's in harmony with the environment out there," said Mr. Harmon, describing plans for "passive uses" such as nature trails and pavilions for picnickers, and using the existing equestrian center to teach children about horses.
The school would serve Sparks and nearby communities, which have been experiencing growth in recent years.
"We think the price is right, the location is right and we can certainly justify the need for a new school," said James Kraft, chief planner for the county schools.
Mr. Kraft said that both elementary schools now serving the area -- Sparks and Fifth District -- are badly overcrowded. The Sparks school has a rated capacity of 286 students, and the enrollment of 441 has forced the use of five portable classrooms. Fifth District has a capacity of 320 and is coping with an enrollment of 362. Mr. Kraft said that a new school also would come in handy because the Sparks school, built in 1909, is slated to undergo major renovations.
If a new school is built at the site, students from Sparks could attend it during the renovations rather than being bused long distances, he said.