Baltimore private school to buy building in Howard County

Columbia developer says deal was political decision

February 07, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's private Norbel School will buy the former Elkridge Elementary School building for $500,000, Howard County Executive James N. Robey has announced.

The school needs a special zoning exception and faces a series of regulatory and financing hurdles before a $3.5 million renovation can begin, but the plan is to move by June 2001, school director Margaret Gold said.

"We're just thrilled. We think it's going to be wonderful," she said, because the school will have a gymnasium and auditorium, and room to add high school classes.

County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City/Elkridge Republican, said, "If the community wants that, that's good. It's a good fit."

Elkridge Community Association President Kevin Doyle echoed those sentiments. "It's the best use for the neighborhood because it's not a high-traffic operation. It's a resource needed in the county, and they have a great reputation," Doyle said.

Everyone connected to the deal seemed happy except Columbia developer James B. Forster, who had worked for months to buy the building on 8.6 acres for a housing development for the elderly.

"Disappointed is the proper word," he said. "I believe it's more of a political decision than an economic one." Over the long term, he said, he felt his project would have returned more tax revenues and benefits to the county than the school will.

He also said he was not notified of the decision and was not "afforded the opportunity" to increase his offer of $325,000 cash.

Norbel, a 20-year-old private nonprofit school for learning-disabled children, has been renting classroom space in a Park Heights Avenue synagogue.

The school's board offered $200,000 in cash and $300,000 in tuition credits for Howard County children older than age 10. Ed Ely, a board member and senior vice president for land sales and marketing for Howard Research and Development, Columbia's developer, said part of the deal was changed to a $30,000-a-year cash payment over 10 years to the county.

Norbel enrolls 100 children, including 22 from Howard County.

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