Explosives stored nearby cause concern at Sparks school site

August 08, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Last year, fear of buried toxic wastes derailed the site selection for replacement of the burned-out Sparks Elementary School. Now explosives threaten a repeat.

Baltimore County school facilities director Gene L. Neff said he is worried about the materials kept on a farm next to the latest Sparks site by Controlled Demolition Inc., the county company known worldwide for bringing down buildings and other large structures with explosives.

So far, parents who have learned about the latest wrinkle in the frustrating, 19-month site search say they just want more information, but aren't panicking.

"We're willing to be rational," said Lorraine Royston, a Sparks parent. "I'd rather deal with something like this than with the unknown." She was referring to possible effects from toxic materials that could be near the rejected Highland site on York Road just south of the old Sparks school.

Neff said he learned of the explosives last week, and is worried about their effect on the new site -- 50 acres owned by the Archdiocese of Baltimore east of Interstate 83. Three magazines of explosives are stored 600 feet from where the proposed 450-pupil school would be built.

"It's safe," School Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione said. "Our people are doing all the checking necessary."

Marchione is under pressure from County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III and Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, who represents the area, to move forward with a new, larger school.

The old stone school burned in January 1995, and its 300 students have been attending classes at Cockeysville Middle School.

Ruppersberger said he has asked environmental director George Perdikakis to check out the situation. If the site proves unusable, he said, he may want to go back to the Highland site -- which he is convinced is not polluted.

Circuit Judge John Grason Turnbull II, who lives in a farmhouse a quarter mile from the CDI bunker, said he sees no danger.

Thomas Stewart, area supervisor for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, said his office and the state fire marshal's office inspect the site annually, and he sees no danger. "It's considered safe storage by ATF," he said.

Faron Taylor, deputy state fire marshal, said national standards say 320 feet is a safe distance around barricaded explosives of up to 500 pounds.

Douglas Loizeaux, vice president of CDI, said the firm keeps a small amount of explosives and separately stored detonators in the 4-foot and 6-foot cube-shaped magazines, which are made of steel and sunk into a hillside.

Pub Date: 8/08/96

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