Hard Rock Cafeteria? More school building woes: Discovery of rock beneath site begs further questions.

September 25, 1996

CARROLL COUNTY's symposium on cutting school construction costs last week couldn't have occurred at a more appropriate -- or embarrassing -- time.

Test borings at the 100-acre site of the planned Cranberry Station Elementary School found 50,000 cubic yards of hard rock that must be dug up, at a cost of $1 million, which will delay advertising for bids by six months.

School authorities say they have no more money, and can't proceed without extra funds. The county already authorized full funding of the $7 million project, using the higher local piggyback income tax, and is hoping for eventual 65 percent repayment from the state.

Numerous preliminary test borings went 25 feet deep and found no problem, school officials explain; a typical test would drill only 15 feet deep. Only last month was the rock layer discovered -- one foot deeper than the original tests. The project was further complicated by demands to buy cheaper farm-zoned land and to find a site with Westminster city water and sewer, which led to the December 1994 purchase of this "topographically challenged," or steeply sloping, former horticultural nursery.

While hindsight is admittedly 20-20, it is reasonable to ask why more extensive initial tests were not made on property that clearly presented some design challenges. The excuse that the land was acquired primarily for a new high school, which quickly changed to priority for a new elementary school, does not enhance the reputation of school planners.

Developer Richard L. Hull told the symposium that school site buyers need to do their homework better. "You need time on your side . . . You don't want a big surprise after you get on the site." It's an admonition to be heeded, especially when Carroll's school system plans to spend $100 million on capital projects over the next six years, half of that cost out of county coffers.

Carroll is not alone in belatedly discovering problems with planned school sites, although hidden rock under the Elmer Wolfe Elementary site also required design changes this year. Other counties have found protected wetlands, toxic waste dumps and sinkholes on school properties. The need is for thorough professional study of these sites, so future construction plans don't land on the rocks.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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