County apparently closing in on new site for Sparks school Environmental report, tests remain to be done

July 11, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The frustrating, 18-month search for a north Baltimore County site on which to build a replacement for the burned out Sparks Elementary School may be nearing an end.

Water testing and an environmental report on about 50 acres owned by the Archdiocese of Baltimore -- east of Interstate 83 and southeast of Old Belfast Road -- are expected to be completed by next month, says Gene L. Neff, chief of facilities for county schools.

If the tests and report turn up no problems, the search for a site may be over because the land already passed sewage percolation tests -- and the archdiocese is willing to sell, said an archdiocesan spokesman.

"I think I'm hopeful," Neff said, hesitant to raise expectations after months of delays that have frustrated parents and politicians alike.

Two of the most frustrated are County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who says he won't be satisfied until a site is approved, and county Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who represents the area and said the search seemingly has "taken forever."

"Sparks is an example of what can't happen in the future," Ruppersberger said. "To be at this point right now and still not have a school is inexcusable."

McIntire said he, too, has been frustrated but believes that now "we're just about to turn the corner."

Several parents of Sparks students are forgiving now that they feel the search for a site is about to end.

"The wheels seem to turn very slowly," said Jennifer Robinson, one of the parents. "Lots of us have been upset at the county," adding that she's now "optimistic that the county is going in the right direction."

Others who opposed the first site selected for a new Sparks, the 24-acre Highlands tract on York Road just south of the old school, are satisfied now that progress is being made.

"I'm not complaining," said Kristi St. Amant, the mother of two Sparks students who have been attending classes at Cockeysville Middle School since the January 1995 fire. "I was opposed to the Highlands site," she said, because she feared it could be affected by pollution from a former industrial site next door.

"It's tough to be in government," St. Amant sympathized, noting that there "are a lot of groups to keep happy." She'd rather have the process take longer to get it right, she said.

After the fire, county officials hoped to rebuild and have a new Sparks operating this September. But the plan to build a school for 600 students to replace the 286-capacity Sparks meant another site.

Now, if the land owned by the archdiocese works as a site and a deal to purchase it can be struck, the target date to open the new Sparks would be September 1998, education officials say.

Pub Date: 7/11/96

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