Plans for more than 2,000 homes near the border of Odenton and Crofton could move forward even without the construction of a new elementary school in the area, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education learned Wednesday.
Developers of the proposed Two Rivers project have offered to pay $38 million for a new elementary school to the west of Maryland Route 3, but could legally take advantage of planned new capacity at Crofton Elementary School and Crofton Middle School instead, school officials said.
Koch Homes and Classic Community Cos. said they will pay the full cost of the new school, and said 373 elementary school aged students would come from Two Rivers by the year 2023. The school would have a capacity of 700, thus providing capacity for additional students from other new developments in the area.
School officials said the proposal would address the need for new school capacity in west Anne Arundel County without adding new capital costs.
“It puts an asset in west county at no cost to the taxpayers,” said Alex Szachnowicz, chief operating officer for Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
Szachnowicz told the board that while Two Rivers could move forward by taking advantage of planned expansions at Crofton Elementary and Crofton Middle School, the school system would prefer that a new school be built.
The new school, Szachnowicz said, would ease school congestion in the expanding west county area, and would prevent the need for school buses to cross Maryland Route 3.
The school board held off on voting on the concept plan for the school, citing a need to collect more information. Board member Deborah Ritchie said the board may have “jumped the gun” in considering a vote to begin with. The proposal first came before county school officials on July 2.
The Two Rivers project had long been slated as a community for people over 55 years of age, but developers recently decided to open it up to everyone.
Under the Two Rivers school plan, the school would actually be constructed several miles from the actual Two Rivers development. This would allow the school to more easily accommodate students from other new homes in the area.
Community groups had urged the board to postpone a vote on the school concept, citing a lack of notice. New board president Andrew Pruski, a Gambrills resident and former president of the Four Seasons Community Association, questioned why the developers did not meet with community groups before presenting their plan to the board. He noted that a portion of the developers' presentation, labeled "Partners in Learning," did not include the name of any community groups.
“What discussions have occurred with them? Have there been any at all?” Pruski asked.
Gary Koch, President of Koch Homes, said that he believed it was more appropriate to speak to the board first.
“To talk to them first before coming to you all, we thought that was putting the cart before the horse, so to speak,” Koch said.
School board members and community groups said they want more information about plans to extend Evergreen Road to allow buses to travel on back roads instead of Route 3. Initial plans call for the road to be extended into Piney Orchard to Strawberry Lake Way, cutting through GORC Park—an unpopular prospect among Piney Orchard residents.
"My concern is with the road and the traffic," said new board member Stacy Korbelak, a Piney Orchard resident. "Why does it have to go through Piney Orchard and GORC?"
Koch said the road would take away about 0.9 acres of park space, but that the developer would donate about 2.2 acres back.
“It does not diminish the fields in any way,” Koch said.
Koch and Szachnowicz said they have considered other routes that buses could take, but they would have required passage through sensitive environmental areas. Residents of the Woodwardville section of south Odenton have also opposed any expansion of their road network.
Board vice president Teresa Milio Birge, an Odenton resident, said that while Evergreen Road is an issue to consider, it may be irrelevant to the broader issues of development and school capacity.
“I’m not going to make a decision based on whether a road gets extended,” she said. “I have to look at it as, if someone is offering to help with my overcapacity problem when I have an overcapacity problem, is that an offer I should consider?”