Officials unveil plan for school on Dayton site

Half of 23-acre parcel would become park by '06

Some react with skepticism

Sharing parks agency land offered as cost saver

Western Howard

November 06, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

After months of watching suit-clad people poking at a 23-acre parcel on Ten Oaks Road, Dayton residents found out last night what is planned: an elementary school.

Representatives from Howard County's public school system announced during a community meeting that they hope to build the school on half of the site - owned by the Department of Recreation and Parks - and develop the other half as a park.

"It would be a win-win for both agencies and the community because they would not only get a brand-new elementary school, but they would also be getting a community park which would be delivered years faster than originally proposed," said Gary J. Arthur, the county's recreation and parks director.

The land is occupied only by a farmhouse and barn, and leased to a resident who also keeps a horse on the property. But Arthur said plans have been in the works to develop the site as a park by 2012.

If the school is built there instead, most of the remaining 13 acres would be turned into a recreational area - albeit smaller than initially proposed, but ready for use by 2006.

"In our opinion, this is going to be a great resource," Arthur said.

But some at the meeting - such as potential school board candidate Barry Tevelow - questioned whether the park would be accessible during school hours, and others did not want to give up park acreage to a school.

"It's not a done deal," stressed William Brown, director of school planning and construction.

But it appeared that way as an architect, wastewater management expert and traffic analyst all stood to present their plans and findings for the site near the intersection with Rutherford Way.

Michael A. Lahowin, who has drafted plans for many Howard schools, including the pending high school, outlined the basics of the plan, which includes building a two-story school for 788 students. The school would be separated from the park by 2.5 acres of wetlands and streams.

The school would be served by wells and a septic system and share fields with the park, which would have an outdoor pavilion, tennis courts, softball fields and a fitness path.

"It's a very responsible approach to development," Lahowin said of sharing the property with the Department of Recreation and Parks. "It decreases the developing cost and also eliminates the expense of additional site acquisition."

Still, residents and parents had many concerns, chief among them whether it was necessary to have two elementary schools so close together in this rural area of the county. Triadelphia Ridge Elementary is a mile and a half north of the site.

"The simple answer is land, availability," Brown said.

David C. Drown, the school system's demographer, said data showed there would be plenty of children to fill the school. Most will come from Bushy Park, Clarksville, Fulton, Triadelphia Ridge and West Friendship elementaries, which are projected collectively to be about 800 seats short of needs when the new school would open in 2006.

"It's a wise choice," Drown said, in no small part because it does not involve exchanging money. "Land is expensive in this part of the county."

The parcel originally belonged to the school system, which traded it to the county in 1992 in exchange for 8 acres of Rockburn Branch Park in Elkridge on which to build Rockburn Elementary. Part of the parcel would be traded again if the proposal goes through, but this time for school system property on Oakland Mills Road in Columbia, which would become a second park.

"We've always wanted to try to do a community park there," Arthur said.

But some parents still thought the swap slighted the residents and the children who could attend the school.

"You need to look at other places, not just go with a place because it's the cheapest," said parent Michele Kratzmeier.

There is still a long road to travel to make the plan a reality, Brown said. He hopes to present the proposal to the Board of Education this month, and noted that a public hearing would then have to be scheduled and a vote taken.

"If the board finds out that you think it's a done deal," he told the gathering of about 30 people, "then I'm in big trouble."

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