Schools note likely areas of crowding

Board unveils chart projecting need to halt development

2003 spending plan shown

$63.6 million proposal includes addition to Clarksville Middle

Howard County

September 21, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The neighborhoods around 14 Howard County schools - including three middle schools - should be closed to new development beginning in 2004 because of anticipated student crowding, according to data released by school officials last night.

The schools likely to be too crowded to allow development were indicated on a open/closed chart released by the board in conjunction with the presentation of the superintendent's proposed 2003 capital budget. The school board's recommendations are used each year by the county government to limit development under the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

Last year's open/closed chart - using a different set of enrollment projections - indicated that only two elementary schools should be closed to development in 2004.

The ordinance limits building if schools are at more than 115 percent of capacity, but takes effect three years later to give the county and developers time to adjust.

According to the new chart, which for the first time included middle schools, neighborhoods around these schools should be closed: Centennial Lane, Hollifield Station, Northfield, St. John's Lane, Lisbon, Pointers Run, Triadelphia Ridge, West Friendship, Atholton, Guilford and Hammond elementaries; and Elkridge Landing, Dunloggin and Patapsco middle schools.

The chart has been long-awaited by developers, county planning and zoning officials and County Council members. County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, said the additional schools on the chart didn't surprise him, because the school system's latest set of enrollment projections were significantly higher than last year's.

The open/closed chart halts future development, but, Kittleman added, "we must work with the school board to alleviate the overcrowding."

That's where the new capital budget comes in.

Last night, Superintendent John R. O'Rourke presented a proposed capital spending plan for fiscal year 2003 that is $7 million more than last year's plan.

The $63.6 million plan includes a 117-seat addition to Clarksville Middle School, and it adds 50 seats to an addition already planned for Rockburn Elementary - all to relieve crowding in the western county.

"We are being very, very careful and, frankly, very conservative in our proposal," O'Rourke said.

Last year, O'Rourke proposed a capital budget of $69.5 million, which was $16 million more than the previous year. The board approved $56.6 million.

Although there are only two new projects, the need for the increase is largely due to a jump in construction costs, said Deputy Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin.

"The same projects listed last year in the capital budget will cost approximately $6 million more in fiscal year 2003," Cousin said.

School officials also reinstated the construction of a western elementary school in the capital improvement plan, which outlines capital spending from 2004 to 2008. The school is scheduled to open in 2006.

"We are thrilled to see that construction funds have been dedicated for a new western elementary school," said Colleen Busher, PTA second vice president at Pointers Run Elementary School, "as redistricting alone simply cannot accommodate the growth anticipated in the western region."

Still, board member Sandra H. French expressed concern that the county might wait until 2006 to open the new school, given that schools are already crowded.

Pointers Run, for example, has more than 1,100 children enrolled this year, in a building designed to hold a little more than 650.

Last night's release of the open/closed chart and capital budget was also significant because both documents show - for the first time this year - definitive enrollment projections for some years out, which have been the subject of much debate recently.

The school system was forced to hire a consultant to improve the outdated process it was using to project enrollment. But even after the consultant's work was completed, problems with predictions existed.

David C. Drown, the district's coordinator of geographic systems, said the problems have mostly been worked out.

"I think we have a greatly improved process from where we were this time last year," Drown said. "The projections are quite accurate three to four years out. Beyond four years, we're not as sure, but that's with any projections. But we're going to refine it; we're going to become better."

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