Second thoughts on school location

Panel members say more urgent need in northeast

Howard County

September 18, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

After months of reviewing predicted student growth, some members of a Howard County citizens committee are saying the suggested location of the county's 12th high school might not be the best place.

The proposed school is to open in 2005 and would relieve four of the high schools projected to be the most severely crowded by then: Long Reach, Howard, Mount Hebron and River Hill.

Education officials have recommended that the school be built in northwest Howard on a parcel owned by the school system near Mount View Middle School.

But some on the 28-member Boundary Lines Advisory Committee - whose task is to assist the Board of Education in re-drawing high school boundary lines for next school year - believe the 12th high school should be built in the northeastern part of the county, because schools such as Long Reach in Columbia and Howard in Ellicott City are in more desperate need of relief.

On the Mount View property in Marriottsville, the high school would be closest to Mount Hebron's and River Hill's districts, and any relief to crowded eastern high schools would come with those students being bused long distances to the new school.

"That would require a massive shift of people from the eastern part of the county to the west to fill those schools," said Tom Grobicki, a committee member representing Long Reach High School. "That just seems unfair."

Already, Grobicki said, many students who live in the east are being bused to schools in the central or western parts of the county.

"It appears there is more crowding in the west, but that's only because we're being relieved by sending kids a long way to schools in the west," he said. "If you just look at the types of housing going up in the county, the east is both much higher density and needs more relief."

Grobicki said that about 10 members of the advisory committee share that opinion.

Deputy Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said that the 12th high school's location has not been decided but that it likely will be built somewhere in the northern part of Howard, if not the northwest.

"If you were to build it in any place, you can't affect all four of those schools without redistricting," he said. "But we're continuing to look at sites in the northern part of the county."

Because high school students will have to be moved anyway, Cousin said, the school district must consider more factors than just the extent of redistricting or busing.

"It's going to be extremely difficult finding a site in the right place, with the right topography, the right access and - this is at the bottom of the list, but it's still on the list - at the right price," Cousin said.

Land in the northeast, which is scarce, could easily cost more than $100,000 an acre, Cousin said. And the school system would prefer to build high schools on at least 50 acres.

Such exorbitant costs would be a deterrent to building in the northeast, Cousin said, but an even bigger obstacle would be finding that much land in the area.

"It's a double-edged sword," Cousin said. "The reason we need to build new schools is because of the growth in the county. The growth in the county means there's no land."

Parent-activist Courtney Watson - who lobbied heavily for the school district to include the 12th high school in its capital budget - said she believes it could go in the northwest or the northeast.

"It makes sense in either location," Watson said.

However, she said it might be more efficient for the school system to make use of the land it owns and purchased for $540,000 in 1992.

It also might be more forward-thinking to have the new school in the western county near Glenelg High School, whose septic system is too old and worn down to keep up with its growing population, she said.

"Being next to Mount View puts it in a position to be able to relieve Glenelg, if it's necessary, because of the septic problem," she said. "I think the school system is doing the right thing. The northeast, the north and the west, all of those areas are going to need relief."

Grobicki said the northeast area still should be more closely scoured for available land. He suggested the 12th high school could be built as part of the U.S. 1 revitalization effort, as one alternative.

"This would have to be thoroughly studied. My feeling is, because they already have that property [at Mount View], it's kind of a foregone conclusion," he said. "It seems like a logical thing to do, and I'd at least like somebody to study it and tell me why it absolutely cannot be done."

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