Panel rejects school appeal

Bay group won't let new Mayo Elementary be built across street

Forest, wetlands at risk

October 04, 2001|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school system was blocked again yesterday in its attempt to build a new Mayo Elementary School across the street from the current one.

The Chesapeake Bay Critical Area Commission unanimously upheld its August decision denying the school system's request to destroy 8.5 acres of forest and 1 acre of wetlands to build a new school.

Mayo parents and community groups had pushed for the new site for a two-story, 400-pupil school so children won't have to be bused 45 minutes to Annapolis while a new school is built on the current school site.

Now that appears unavoidable.

The school system can appeal the commission's decision to the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, but it is unlikely, several school board members said yesterday. And, they noted, there are few undeveloped sites left on the Mayo peninsula that are big enough for a school.

"We've put a lot of time and attention and resources into trying to accommodate the interests of the community, and the longer we go with this, the more it will cost taxpayers," said school board member Vaughn Brown of Hanover. "The options are extremely limited."

Janet Bury, a school board member from Brooklyn Park, said she opposes appealing the decision.

"We need to move ahead with this instead of wasting time," she said. "Either we leave the school as it is and don't build a new one, or we transfer the kids out so we can build."

The 27-member Critical Area Commission said that allowing a new school across from the current one would harm the environment. They also said the school system had not adequately shown how it would lessen the environmental damage.

"There's a lot more to mitigation than planting a few trees," said Dave Bourdon, a commission member. "There still are no specific proposals for mitigation coming from the school board in any way, shape or form."

P. Tyson Bennett, a lawyer for the school board, acknowledged that no specific mitigation site had been proposed, but he said the school system owns plenty of land eligible for reforestation.

Last year the Critical Area Commission approved a school board plan to tear down the current Mayo Elementary School and rebuild on the 7.3-acre site. The land is part of a critical area, defined as within 1,000 feet of the bay and its tributaries.

To keep its options open, the school board has not relinquished last year's approval, even as it has sought approval for the alternative site across the street. After the alternative site was rejected in August, the school board asked the commission to reconsider its decision.

The alternative site is 13.6 acres, including the 8.5 acres of forest.

The school system has $5.3 million in hand from the county that's earmarked for a new Mayo Elementary School. Superintendent Carol S. Parham has requested an additional $6.8 million in next year's budget to cover the rest of the cost of the school.

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