- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The St. Mary’s County Board of Education is in search of land to build two more elementary schools and a high school within the next decade.
The problem is such sites are at a premium in St. Mary’s, at least the amount, type and location needed for the schools, officials said.
A new high school is scheduled to begin planning in fiscal year 2019 and to open four years later, according to the school system’s capital projects listing.
Brad Clements, deputy superintendent of schools and operations, said the best place for the new high school would be somewhere in the California area along Route 235.
A new high school site would ideally include 75 buildable acres, Clements said. That would give enough space for buildings, parking lots and athletic fields.
He said Great Mills High School is on 61 acres, but it is “tight” and all available space is used.
So far there have been few promising possibilities for the high school site because of the specific needs in terms of location and size of the property, he said.
“It gets more and more difficult because there’s less and less land to purchase,” Sal Raspa, school board chair, said. “ A lot of people don’t want to sell their property.”
He said that school staff are on the search for new land, contacting prospective sellers almost daily.
“It’s an ongoing saga,” he said.
Often land is either tied up in a family situation with multiple owners or does not meet qualifications the school system needs, he said.
But there is a need to build more schools as the county’s population continues to grow, Raspa said.
“We’ve had more luck, or more possibilities, by far, with the elementary” sites, Clements said.
In addition to Capt. Walter Francis Duke Elementary School, which will begin construction this fall and is set to open in August 2015 in Leonardtown, the school board has plans for two more elementary schools. Ideally, one would be situated in or near Lexington Park and the other in the California area, Clements said.
Plans to build an early childhood center next to Evergreen Elementary School, which has been delayed and is now not set to be completed until fiscal year 2022, could forestall the need for the at least one of those new elementary schools if it were moved back up in construction plans, Clements said. The early childhood center would absorb younger grades from an overcrowded Evergreen, opening up that school to serve more students in higher grades.
Money shifted to pay for Esperanza erosion
The school board in May 2012 approved buying one acre of land next to Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School to build a new bus loop and expand parking that would also serve new recreational athletic fields planned next to the school.
The purchase of the land, referred to as the Moeller property, fronts New Market Turner Road just to the west of the school.
The parcel is currently owned by the state of Maryland and was identified as available as surplus property, Clements said. The $80,000 price tag was based on appraisals; the sale will hopefully go through within the next few months, he said.
“We’re looking at that piece of property mainly so we can expand the bus loop some day,” Clements said.
Currently, he said, buses have to stack up bumper to bumper in front of Dent Elementary in the morning and at dismissal. That is not the safest way to load and unload students from buses, Clements said.
Next to the school, the St. Mary’s County government has plans to build multipurpose practice fields that would connect with other athletic fields at the Fifth District Park.
The school system used $118,000 originally set aside for the purchase of that acre to pay to repair a major erosion problem at Esperanza Middle School this year. A design to remedy the erosion, which has eaten into a ballfield at the school, is due before the school board later this month.
The school system now plans to buy the Moeller property using about $155,000 (for the land, demolition of a house and building a temporary parking lot) from a fund set up to negotiate for the high school site. According to a July 9 letter from Superintendent Michael Martirano to the county commissioners, moving that money “will limit the negotiations on the high school site which are presently moving forward.”