Parents object to school site

Board members scheduled for key votes today

12th high school at issue

Neighbors to picket against proposal for Marriottsville

January 24, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Parents and community members who live near the proposed site for Howard County's 12th high school plan to picket outside the Board of Education today in an effort to persuade board members not to put the school near their homes in Marriottsville.

The board is scheduled to vote on the site this afternoon. In addition, the board plans to approve high school boundary lines during its evening session.

But members will have to contend with parents with posters demanding that the high school's location be reconsidered. The rally is the latest in a recent flurry of attempts by Marriottsville neighbors to keep the high school out.

Opposition isn't confined to prospective neighbors of the high school.

In the fall, members of the Boundary Lines Advisory Committee - swamped with school redistricting concerns - said 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 desperate need of relief.

If built on the Mount View property in Marriottsville, the high school would be closest to the Mount Hebron and River Hill school districts, and relief for crowded eastern high schools would be achieved by busing students long distances to the new school, they said.

School officials say the Marriottsville site is the best they can offer. Land in the northeast, where everyone agrees the school would be best situated, is unavailable or far too expensive, they say.

The school board has been uncertain about the Mount View location.

In November, the site was barely approved, with yes votes from two of the board's four members at the time, Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt and member Patricia S. Gordon. It was opposed by member Virginia Charles, and Vice Chairwoman Sandra H. French abstained.

The size of the site was the biggest issue, said school board members, who worried that parking and playing fields, among other things, would be inadequate.

Marriottsville neighbors agree. They crowded the board's last public hearing on the matter, testifying against the proposal. Some recently sought legal advice about fighting the high school's location. And this week, neighbors paid $1,500 for a nearly full-page advertisement in the Howard County edition of The Sun.

The ad, which appeared in yesterday's Howard section, implored parents to call board members and oppose the proposed site for the high school.

The ad was paid for by Concerned Citizens and Parents of Future 12th High School Students. Investment adviser Ed Von Lange and about 30 of his neighbors in Marriottsville were instrumental in placing the ad in the newspaper.

"We felt that the rest of Howard County needed to be informed about what was going on with the board's decision on the 12th high school," said Von Lange, who lives in the Spring Valley Chase neighborhood. "It's important to stress that we don't have a problem with a school there. It's just that we don't think a high school is appropriate."

Von Lange and others have said the site is too small to accommodate a building as big as a high school. They worry about increased traffic and cramped parking in the neighborhood, crowded playing fields and student safety.

"They're going to line our streets like they line River Hill and Mount Hebron with cars," Von Lange said. "River Hill still hasn't been able to solve their [parking] problem. We know people who live there."

The site, across from Mount View Middle School, is owned by the school system. It consists of about 37 acres on two parcels. School officials would prefer to build high schools on 50 acres or more.

To situate the school there, architects plan to place some parking lots and at least one playing field across Woodford Drive, a main road that divides the two parcels.

"Kids will actually have to cross the street to access athletic fields, which is obviously a safety issue," Von Lange said.

When the middle school holds events, he said, the quiet, residential neighborhood feels like the overflow lot at a rock concert.

"The road is so narrow that when you put cars on both sides, you can't get emergency equipment there," he said.

Some parents who lobbied the school board for a 12th high school have been having second thoughts.

Sue Tompkins, a member of Countywide Citizens for a 12th High School, said that once she saw the county's plans for squeezing the school onto the small site, she was alarmed.

"Where's the marching band going to practice? Are we advocating now that these kids are going to drive to practice? It seems to me that there's not going to be enough field space," she said.

Tompkins, who lives in Woodstock, said her concern used to be the crowding in all county schools, until the 12th high school was proposed for the nearby Mount View site, where her children might have to attend it.

"As a member of the Citizens for a 12th High School, I say absolutely we need this school," Tompkins said. "But now, I'm going to worry about my kid going to high school."

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