An open house at the county's first new high school in 27 years gave County Executive David R. Craig the chance to announce more school construction.
As he was about to tour the $70 million Patterson Mill complex Friday, Craig heralded the $1.4 million purchase of 23 acres in Churchville for another elementary school.
Construction, on the property at the east side of Schucks Road near Churchville Road, will coincide with the Vale Road Elementary building project, north of the county seat.
Plans call for a two-story building, similar in design to the $26 million Vale Road School, that is expected to be under construction in 2009.
Harford County will have 34 elementary schools when the two new schools open in 2011 and relieve crowding in the Bel Air area. Although the new schools have long been needed, the county has been stymied in its efforts to find affordable land.
"We have been working to find a site," Craig said. "It had to be in the right place, where schools are crowded. It had to be for sale and be the right size."
Several Bel Air area elementary schools, most notably Prospect Mill and Fountain Green, are overcrowded. The two schools have enrollments far above their capacity and nearly enough students in portable classrooms to fill another school.
Fifth-graders at Prospect Mill, which is operating at 140 percent of its capacity, will attend Southampton Middle School to ease the crunch.
"We are poised to work with the community to define attendance areas and move kids the least distance," Craig said.
Building on land within or near the boundaries of the existing crowded schools will make the transition easier for families, said Craig, a former school administrator and state legislator.
"There will be little movement for these families," he said. "We built seven elementaries when I was in the House and Senate. Some families were redistricted several times. Building two schools at the same time will be better for everyone."
The Churchville property, purchased from Michael J. Lozniak, adjoins Schucks Road Sports Complex, a 71-acre site where the county is building five athletic fields, several walking trails and two playgrounds.
Craig is not stopping at the elementary schools.
"We have to find another piece of land, about 50 acres, for another middle school in the Bel Air area," he said.