Letters To The Editor

Letters To The Editor

October 20, 2002

Building high school in the west a blunder

If you believe that a picture is worth a thousand words, find a good map of Howard County. Locate the northeast region of the county and the four high schools and collection of middle and elementary schools that serve the area.

From there, identify the vast woodlands off New Cut Road slated for new homes, the continuing construction in the Worthington community, and the Mountjoy development off Route 100. Finally, pinpoint the site chosen for the new high school halfway across the county.

As those thousand words turn into a thousand questions, the first should be: Are we making a $50 million mistake?

Earlier this year, the board of the education voted to build a new high school at Mount View in the rural rolling hills of northern Howard County. They chose between two alternatives handpicked by planners charged with finding building sites in the northeastern part of the county.

And whereas developers continue to find and secure large northeastern parcels, the DOE planners failed to deliver a site anywhere close. Considering the two sites advanced to the board, it's fair to question how hard they tried.

Shouldn't public facilities be built where they are needed most? Some call it the law of supply and demand. Others call it common sense.

Consider the following:

Of the nine middle schools that will send students to Centennial, Mt. Hebron, Howard, or Long Reach High School next year, three are west of Route 29 and six are east of Route 29.

Of the 15 feeder elementary schools, five are west of Route 29 and ten are east of Route 29. That's including a new eastern elementary that will open its doors as officials already debate adding a 100-seat addition.

And if you believe that there is no greater barometer of runaway growth than the number of portable classrooms parked outside a school, consider that seven portable classrooms are in use at schools west of Route 29 and 25 portables are deployed east of Route 29.

That's twice as many schools in the east, more than three times as many portable classrooms in the east, plans to build at least one new elementary school in the east and some of the county's heaviest development in the east - and the Department of Education wants to build a new high school in the west.

To understand what's going on, you must consider the only other location offered as a potential building site. It's the large parcel of land at the corner of Marriottsville Road and Route 99 owned by one of Howard County's leading developers.

The last-minute entry contained a significant amount of wetlands, a reason given for rejecting a prime location in the northeast. But the site was surrounded on two sides by the operating landfill at Alpha Ridge, which made any other choice look better by comparison. Alpha Ridge was a token gesture that never had a chance.

What's significant about the Alpha Ridge site, however, is its proximity to the end of the sewer line several hundred yards away. If the Department of Education succeeds in having that sewer line extended to the Mount View site, development will race westward along Route 99 as "Waverly Woods West" stretches towards Carroll County east.

The old formula of one house per three acres will become three houses per one acre and the landscape of the western county will change forever.

The economic implications are huge; the developers know it, the politicians know it and the Department of Education knows it, too.

What everyone in Howard County needs to know is that building a new high school at Mount View is not a $50 million mistake --- it's a $100 million blunder.

Igniting new growth in the west while ignoring existing growth in the east makes the Mount View high school nothing more than a Band-Aid; building and shifting students out of the northeast now, and building and shifting students back again in the very near future.

Whether you call it the Mount View shuffle or the Mount View hustle, it's not fair for students or taxpayers.

Look at a map and decide for yourself. Pictures really are worth a thousand words. It's not too late to ask a few questions.

Greg Birmingham

Ellicott City

Adler's criticism of Robey unjustified

The recent attack on Howard County Executive James Robey's leadership by Mr. Adler is unjustifiable.

Mr. Robey's leadership skills are quite comparable to and often exceed those of successful leaders in public or private service. He has communicated effectively with his constituencies, empowered employees in decision making, encouraged public participation in vital projects and set reasonable, yet challenging goals for the county government and its various strategic units.

I do not doubt Mr. Adler's success in operating a mid-sized, independently owned business enterprise. However, there are considerable differences for application of leadership styles due to the nature of the organization.

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