Future of school unresolved

Route 30 work promised by county

January 26, 2000|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Hampstead leaders who were nettled by several issues with the county say a public meeting has left them with assurances on economic development issues, but not on the future of the old Hampstead Elementary School.

The Town Council succeeded in getting the county commissioners to promise safety improvements on Route 30 north of town, where North Carroll Shopping Center and its soon-to-open Wal-Mart will bring hundreds more cars every day.

The commissioners agreed to put in writing the verbal agreement with Sweetheart Cup Co. that any future expansion of its new site south of town would be allowed only if the company dedicates land for the future Hampstead bypass.

But town officials received less satisfaction on the future of the old school.

Commissioner's President Julia Walsh Gouge favored giving the surplus building on Main Street to the town, but Commissioners Robin Bartlett Frazier and Donald I. Dell were noncommittal.

"It's in the county's hands, but it's the centerpiece of our town, and the decision should be made in Hampstead," said Mayor Christopher M. Nevin.

At the meeting Jan. 18, Frazier reminded Nevin that he had once told the county that the town didn't want the school. Nevin said he made a mistake at a meeting December 1998 and that he immediately took back his comments in a letter to the commissioners.

The council has made further written pleas for the building, Nevin said.

"They've had it in writing for more than a year now," he said.

Redevelopment sought

The mayor and Town Council want to request proposals from developers to turn the school building into a thriving downtown presence. With Wal-Mart building a store at the north end, Nevin said, development is sure to follow.

Town officials want to make sure that whatever goes into the school building is appropriate for what is the centerpiece of downtown.

Most of the building is deteriorated and has not held classes since the early 1990s. Newer portions are used for storage and offices by Carroll County Board of Education.

"It's getting worse every day it sits there," Nevin said.

Town needs deed

He said the town has had initial conversations with developers, all of whom said the town needs to own the building before they can seriously talk.

"We should take it up very quickly, as far as I'm concerned," Gouge said yesterday.

The commissioners have not had a chance to vote on issues stemming from the meeting with the Town Council on Jan. 18, she said, and county government offices were closed yesterday because of the weather.

"I'd like to deed it to Hampstead and be done with it, maybe with some parameters, such as if the Town Council couldn't find a user, they'd turn it back to us," Gouge said.

Although the pavement in front of the school and the war memorial that sits between it and Main Street are in Hampstead, the school building is over the line in the county. Gouge said it would be possible for the town to annex the building.

No post office

The town had hoped to talk the U.S. Postal Service into putting its new Hampstead post office there. Councilman Lawrence Hentz said that if the building had been in the town's hands, the Postal Service could have been persuaded to do so.

The Postal Service's real estate specialist said in September that the site posed numerous problems. Postal officials are pursuing a different location, at Lower Beckleysville and Black Rock roads, a few blocks from downtown.

Bog turtle study pending

Also at last week's meeting, town and county officials agreed not to allow construction at the proposed North Carroll Business Park off Route 482 until after the bog turtle study is completed in October.

"We're not marketing it," said Jack Lyburn, director of economic development for the county.

A sign had said the land was available for development, but the sign has been removed, Lyburn said.

The state has commissioned a study of the habitats of federally protected bog turtles on the east side of Hampstead, near and along the path of the proposed bypass. The turtles are an endangered species, and the study has put the long-awaited bypass on hold.

Steve Horn, county planning director, warned against putting too much stock in the October target for completing the study. He said it was likely the state would delay the bypass project further, and that new environmental information could cause bypass approvals to be rescinded.

Hentz, who is an environmental engineer, said he does not share Horn's concern.

"I think the bog turtles could actually be a good thing," Hentz said. "It would allow the state and environmental [groups] to have a shining star example of the way you do things right. That generates excitement for a project."

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