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Coca Cola Drive Middle School Site Sparks Safety Discussion

Oxford Square, a development off Coca Cola Drive that contains future middle school site, is adjacent to the CSX main line.

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."

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Elle August 24, 2012 at 03:31 PM
The people complaining just don't want a school there period. The railroad tracks are just an excuse. Maybe they can put a fence up with barbed wire to keep everyone off the tracks? How about teaching kids the dangers of playing on the tracks? Unfortunately, I personally knew 2 people at 2 different times who got killed by being on the track so I understand the tragedy of it. Both times it happened away from school on their own "play" time.
Elizabeth Janney (Editor) August 24, 2012 at 03:39 PM
It isn't the school system's jurisdiction to put a fence up around the railroad, according to spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove, and she said there aren't plans to put a fence around the school, either. She said there was a forest buffer between the middle school and the tracks, in addition to the Oxford Square neighborhood. The developer would not comment on safety plans at the Oxford Square community as a whole, other than to say: "It is a beautiful project."
Donald Lehr August 24, 2012 at 03:51 PM
tracks are over 1/4 mile away
Dave A. August 24, 2012 at 03:55 PM
I don't think anyone wants a new school. I think it gives them a purpose to complain. No matter where it is built it will cause the need for redistricting, which I think is the underlying issue and they find other things to complain about and do not lay the cards on the table to be seen.
Annie August 24, 2012 at 07:03 PM
Your right I for one don't want a school, stores or homes around here. I'll say it out loud. Put them in your own back yard.
Annie August 24, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Have any of you physically been back there? Have you looked and been in the traffic that is already there?
Elle August 25, 2012 at 04:02 AM
I have one practically in my backyard. Its called Mayfield Middle. How many of you travel down Mayfield Ave? Well...I don't love that because everyone goes way too fast. But when we complained, we were told to teach our kids to look both ways. Its always different when its you. lol
John Vickers August 25, 2012 at 06:53 PM
What is the difference between the railroad running near the new middle school and the trucks the run along route 100 adjacent to Howard High School and they are a heck of a lot closer than the 1/4 mile referenced above. If you understood haz mat placarding it is amazing what travels on our highways adjacent to our schools
Dave A. August 26, 2012 at 01:56 AM
Great Point John! Annie, that TRAFFIC is all over this county!
Jack August 26, 2012 at 04:24 AM
Take a look at house prices anywhere in the country along a railway and compare them to house prices a few miles away. I have seen many houses along the tracks for almost nothing. Oxford square is probably best suited for commercial use but since someone is hell bent on residential and needed a school to build houses not alleviate the curent overcrowding than the solution is simple. Instead of using the school as a buffer for the houses the developer could just build over 55 housing along the tracks as a buffer and place the school in a safer place. Ssk the developer how he would feel about that? jack
djp952 August 26, 2012 at 06:08 AM
Ah yes, the good old "over 55" solution to everything. US Zoning at its finest, and nice and close to Maryland Live! so they have something to do all day. I grew up with train tracks 100 feet away from the back of my elementary school and nary a single child was ever injured. I believe the solution they used up there in New York was called a "fence". Amazing technology, HoCo should look into it :) I've been so bent over and screwed by this county I don't really care anymore what they do. My kids will likely be going to middle school in a coal mine the way things are going. Ugh. You can't change these people's minds, they are all complete morons and could not care less about others. Accept it!!
edb August 26, 2012 at 12:06 PM
@ Jack...The school is to be built toward the front of the development close to Coca Cola Dr and Verizon. Those plans were changed last year when they were discussing the building of the elementary school at Oxford Square. There will be enough of a buffer that the school will be safe. No need for anymore unaffordable 55+ housing.
Greg G. August 29, 2012 at 02:56 AM
I just moved from Mayfield Ave. to Hanover Ave and it took several children being run over (Mayfield) and several hundred angry residents yelling at Councilman Bell to get "Calming" strips put there. people still rocked through there. The idiot govt engineer tried to argue with me over stopping distances. His math was WRONG. They base their calculations on a perfect scenario stopping distance. Meaning it's not raining, a kid isnt screming in the back seat distracting you, etc..... The hard part is someone always has to get hurt for Howard County officials to listen and even then they use filters to hear what they want. If they are going to buld a school there (DUMB IDEA) then they better plan on safety measures right off the bat (they wont).
djp952 August 29, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Way off topic, but I completely disagree with the entire "traffic calming" concept, on Mayfield or anywhere else (I'm sure Ducketts is getting this soon - ugh, my car can't do speed bumps, that's gonna be GREAT). All speed bumps do is slow down the people that are going to slow down, and the narrowing just makes speeding ever moreso fun and challenging. We continue to try to come up with ways to prevent bad behavior, especially on the roads, rather than trying to treat the root cause. We need to calm the HUMANS not the cars. That said, I'm not in favor of the Montgomery County-esque camera at every corner either, since that's just a way to make money and still doesn't solve anything. How do we get the people of Maryland to calm down and stop driving like lunatics? I have no idea, but I wish I did. I would like to see more actual human police out and about as a start, rather than finding them at the Marshalee Exxon or the US1 Quiznos during school/rush hours. As a teen in NY, I was TERRIFIED to go over the speed limit .. because there were real live policemen/women out there waiting for me. I got busted once for 32 in a 30! (and it stuck in court, too - don't see that in MD). The continued attempts at making life difficult for drivers is not working and punishes those of us that don't do it in the first place, the bad drivers themselves have to be addressed, and I honestly don't see that happening here. More police = more taxes = no way, right?
Greg G. August 29, 2012 at 11:09 AM
djp952 you want to change human behavior? Sorry people are too selfish and always think, "Not me" . Several children were hurt and my wife was almost killed as the result of someone speeding down Mayfield. Once the calming strips were in it immediately had an impact on speed. The biggest problem with speed cameras is that the majority of the profits go to the maintenance company and they also have control over the timing of the lights. Why is this important? They have set the change from yellow to red at 4 seconds when a camera is present and normal lights are 7-11 seconds from yellow to red when there is no camera. Pretty slimey. I think there should be a permanent speed camera near every school and the proceeds go directly to the school minus maintenace costs. djp952 I am also betting you dont have kids.
Annie August 29, 2012 at 11:47 AM
I'm going to ask again has anyone commenting physically been back to this area? Not look on a map by actually been there. It is surrounded by 2 industrial parks. One road in and the same road out emptying into the same road that these industrial parks use. (and a new park being built on the other corner) Now go there at either time, morning going to work or evening coming out of work. And lets throw Rt 100 as the main exit into the mix then you tell me.
Elle August 30, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Speaking of the calming strips on Mayfield Ave, it looks like they aren't going to put them back. They're resurfacing the road and I asked about the speed bumps and was told they weren't going in. I hope this information was wrong because if it wasn't, I'm going to cause a big stink about it. lol

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