Plans to build a seven-classroom building for the federal Head Start program as an addition to a Columbia school ran into opposition from a small but determined group of Owen Brown parents last night.
About 20 parents active at the combined Dasher Green Elementary/ Owen Brown Middle schools said they have no objection to the building as long as it's constructed someplace else. Their neighborhood school is crowded, they said, and putting 100 more children onto the property will only worsen that.
But Howard County officials said there is no other choice, and they promised to work with the residents to solve any problems.
"We have seen so many changes happen in our community. We see things get tighter and tighter and tighter," said Norma Bochinski, who has three children at Dasher Green. She said the neighborhood is congested because of East Columbia Library, the Owen Brown Village Center and the Dasher Green swimming pool and community center.
"We believe there are other sites close to our community that would be better," said Bochinski.
She and others said they are upset because the county made a decision without consulting them. One parent said Stevens Forest Elementary in neighboring Oakland Mills would be a better site for Head Start because it's one school, with more open land around it.
"One thing I don't want to see is anything taken away from Dasher Green. We have classrooms in closets," said Vanessa Hooks, a parent with two children at the school.
Associate school superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said the Head Start project would not hurt the schools. Cousin said any blacktop or playing fields lost to the building would be replaced elsewhere, and residents could join a planning committee to ensure that.
But Cecil Bray, deputy county chief administrative officer, said the county had no choice.
Since the boilers failed in the former Elkridge Elementary School building in December 1998, Head Start has been forced to relocate 100 children to a former school in Ellicott City, Bray said. The move forced the program to hold two classes per day in that building instead of one, and the federal government, which funds Head Start, is pressing the county to find new classrooms for the displaced children, he said.
Head Start helps get preschool children from low-income families ready for kindergarten. In addition to the Ellicott City location - in a building shared with the county's Center for the Arts - Head Start uses classrooms at the former Harriet Tubman High School at Atholton.
To quickly find a new location east of U.S. 29, county Executive James N. Robey chose the first school scheduled for renovations - Dasher Green/Owen Brown. The idea is to save more than $1 million by combining construction of the addition with a $3.1 million renovation scheduled for the twin 24-year old schools located in a single building.