Would-be neighbors of a proposed elementary school on Ducketts Lane opposed the site Thursday night on grounds it would increase traffic, hurt the environment and be too close to other schools. Supporters said the site is badly needed, with schools in the northeast over capacity.
The site is planned for 6501 Ducketts Lane in Elkridge.
“The property was not meant to house a school” because it has an on one side and on the other, testified Becky Kimball, who lives adjacent to Ducketts Lane, at a before the Howard County Board of Education.
“I am personally opposed for several reasons,” said Lori Lane resident Suzanne Straub, including that the school would be located on a two-lane street ill-equipped to handle school traffic. She said there are partial wetlands on the site, which is in close proximity to other elementary schools.
There are three elementary schools in a four-mile radius of the Ducketts Lane site: (1.7 miles), (3.1 miles) and Bellows Spring Elementary (3.8 miles).
Valerie McGuire, speaking for the Greater Elkridge Community Association (GECA), testified that her group supported the site precisely because of the other institutions nearby.
“As of June 22, Bellows Spring was at 121 percent capacity and Elkridge Elementary was at 108 percent,” she said. “The primary reason we accept the Ducketts Lane site is that it would provide relief for these schools.” She added that it would afford families “proximity to a school located closer to their homes along the Montgomery Road corridor.”
Leslie Korneich, who lives in the greater Elkridge area, echoed the need for a school as the population swells. “With each passing week, more homes are going up on land where our community hoped to see a new school,” she said.
A representative for the Concerned Citizens of Howard County also cited increasing population density in support of the Ducketts Lane site.
“With the ongoing … development in the Northeast, the demands on those distinct schools are beyond their capacities,” said the group's spokeswoman. “If the Ducketts Lane school can provide the opportunity to reduce overcrowding, we welcome that site.”
Citing the land's environmental issues and history, Straub disagreed. “The county considered this location and found it unsuitable for a school or even a post office due to it being partial wetlands and for its small size,” she said. She said mitigation for wetlands would end up costing the county.
“I am a taxpayer, and I know this would hit my pocket directly,” she added.
Another Ducketts Lane-area resident said she didn’t approve of the site but felt it was a done deal.
“The plans have already gone through, because I know the land’s been surveyed; the bus lane has already been designated,” said Susan Shaw, who lives on Kyle Leaf Court.
She asked whether any board members were Elkridge residents. ”Nobody on this board lives in the Elkridge area where this is going to be built,” she said after a show of hands revealed no board members lived there. “I’m very disappointed.”
Residents want plan revised
Straub encouraged the county to consider alternatives that may be more cost-effective like redistricting, noting that there are schools in the western part of the county that are under-utilized.
GECA also discussed using as a temporary location while a new school is being built.
Despite GECA’s support for the Ducketts Lane school concept, McGuire said the logistics weren’t satisfactory. “While GECA believes it is of utmost importance that a new school be opened by fall of 2013, we are concerned that this 10-acre site does not meet the 16 acres needed to comply with the minimum,” said McGuire.
Korneich suggested revising the proposal.
“The Ducketts Lane site should hold a school larger than 600 seats…. Given the enrollment numbers of the current northeast schools, it makes no sense to build a 600-seat school and have to come back years later and spend millions of dollars on a hundred-seat addition, as has taken place twice since Bellows Spring Elementary was built in 2003.”
Planning officials told the board they had been drafting and revising some details already.
“We have been working feverishly,” said Ken Roey, director of facilities for the Howard County Public School System. He explained that he met with environmental officials and the Army Corps of Engineers about the wetlands and was going through the final phase of due diligence and acquisition.
“We’re still working through the technical details,” said Roey. “There will be some changes to the site configuration.”
Roey said he will bring the plan before the board on Aug. 18, when it could vote on whether to move forward with development of the elementary school.