After this week, some Howard County citizens say they are concerned about the middle school planned on Coca Cola Drive near the rail line.
“Having seen this happen twice in a month in Howard County, how can you ignore that?” said Leslie Kornreich of Hanover, referencing the Aug. 8 and Aug. 21 .
The middle school on Coca Cola Drive will be 1,530 feet from the CSX main line, according to the most recent plans on record with Howard County.
It will be located within a residential and business community called Oxford Square, which is still in the planning stages.
During an interview on WYPR's “Midday with Dan Rodricks” show Thursday, the new superintendent of the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) said that she had confidence in the safety of the middle school site.
“There are schools throughout the country that are only 300 feet away from rail lines,” said Superintendent Renee Foose. "It’s a safe distance."
In California, the state's Department of Education requires an independent safety assessment for schools within 1,500 feet of a railroad. In general guidelines for school siting, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends studying air quality in addition to train cargo and speed for sites within .5 mile of a rail line.
The school system is creating a management plan as it develops the Coca Cola Drive school, according to HCPSS spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove.
"All schools have plans that are specific to the site and to the population," Amani-Dove said in a phone interview with Elkridge Patch.
"The school system is collaborating with the county Office of Emergency Management to review any potential hazards associated with the railroad tracks and put into place needed protections/precautions," Amani-Dove said.
Kornreich said she would like to see concrete measures.
“The only responsible way forward is not to say that they’re taking precautions but to show us what precautions they are taking,” Kornreich said.
Members of the Board of Education said they would like additional information about emergency plans as well.
"I believe prudent planning would require us to make plans for the worst-case situation, which in this case would be a derailment that involved toxic or hazardous materials and potentially an explosion," said school board member Cindy Vaillancourt, in an email.
Fellow school board member Allen Dyer said in an email that he believes additional construction costs are needed to allow for "rapid evacuation of students, especially special needs students."
The developer of Oxford Square, Preston Scheffenacker, offset the cost of the school by donating the land for it to HCPSS in 2010 as part of a zoning negotiation.
In addition to donating the 20-acre school site, the developer offered $4 million if a school opened by 2014.
"This free land is going to turn out to be not so free because the cost of responsible safety measures are the price of having this land handed to them," said Kornreich.
The school on Coca Cola Drive is slated to open in 2014 to alleviate overcrowding in the northeastern part of the county, according to school planners.
Project managers will present a construction document to the Board of Education in November before construction moves forward, according to Amani-Dove. She added: "The school system's highest priority is the safety and well-being of the students and school community."