Councilman opposes school at Bacon Hall Ruppersberger's stance may eliminate farm site as option.

October 09, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

A proposal that would eventually relieve overcrowded classrooms in north Baltimore County by locating an elementary school at the Bacon Hall farm has drawn the opposition of County Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Heeding criticism from some of his constituents, Ruppersberger, D-3rd, said he does not favor the county's purchase of the 241-acre farm if part of the land is to be used for a school site. The rest of the farm, which lies just west of Interstate 83, north of Cold Bottom Road, is envisioned for use as a county park and tree nursery.

Ruppersberger said he isn't opposed to buying the farm for a park as long as it is left mainly as open land and the recreational uses limited to passive activities in keeping with the rural setting, such as an equestrian center. About 100 people were mostly critical of the plans, especially the school-site portion, at a public meeting last week.

The dispute illustrates the strong, sometimes conflicting pressures in the northern county -- the need to accommodate growing numbers of residents with public services against a resistance to the development that's slowly eating away at the rural nature of the area.

Ruppersberger's opposition means the search will likely have to start anew for a badly needed elementary school site north of Sparks, according to James Kraft, school system planner.

Sparks Elementary School now has 440 students, 200 of whom attend classes outside the building, either in trailers or in a nearby church.

Despite plans for a new, 750-pupil elementary school to open in Jacksonville in September 1994, and a 152-pupil addition to Prettyboy Elementary school to be ready about the same time, Kraft predicts a surplus of 367 students at the Sparks school by 1995.

That's why Ruppersberger said he is anxious to see a site identified and will provide a handful of suggested alternatives to school authorities.

"We definitely need a school site," Ruppersberger said.

The councilman does not have the authority to block the use of the farmland for a school if the school board insists on going ahead, but the opposition of a council member is usually enough to get the board to drop an idea in the interest of preserving harmony each year at budget time.

Ruppersberger agreed with many of the vocal critics who spoke at last week's meeting at Hereford Middle School that roads near the farm can't handle school traffic without expensive improvements, and that a school building there would amount to developing the land beyond its rural character.

"This is the last large parcel in the area that's not in the agricultural preservation program," Ruppersberger said. A school, he said "is incompatible with the site."

Other speakers at the meeting noted, however, that Sparks Elementary is badly overcrowded and that suggesting alternative sites at this point will only delay a new building that is already needed.

Kraft said that Sparks, built in 1909, can't be renovated unless its students can be moved elsewhere during construction. But another building is not available to house the classes.

The school board has plans to buy sites for two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school in the north county, Kraft said, and the council already has approved $150,000 to buy the first of the two elementary sites.

The Bacon Hall plan that excited school officials would have enabled them to get 12.5 acres at the farm for only $96,000. However, Kraft said, other sites certainly exist in the huge north county area.

County Recreation and Parks Director Wayne Harman is eager to buy the farmland with $1.9 million in bond money authorized by the voters in the last election. He plans to renovate an old but large horse barn on the property and perhaps grow trees for county landscaping projects, too. Plans for a golf course at Bacon Hall have been abandoned, Harman said.

Ruppersberger said he will discuss his position on the site with County Executive Roger B. Hayden, a former school board president, and with School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel.

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