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Baltimore County School Board backs away, for now, from building a new Loch Raven High

Loch Raven High School
Dominique Maria Bonessi/WYPR
School officials have proposed to replace Loch Raven High School, which was built in 1972, with a new building that could seat several hundred more students.

A months-long dispute between the Baltimore County Council and Baltimore County Public School administrators about where to build a new high school is defused — for now.

Baltimore County leaders are considering a path forward for a sticky issue. The county wants to make best use of its planning and development arm, but school officials warn that decision could add up to $40 million more to the price tag of a school that already would cost around $150 million to build.

The issue is how to ease overcrowding in high schools across a fast-growing section of Northeast Baltimore County.

School officials have proposed to replace Loch Raven High School, which was built in 1972, with a new building that could seat several hundred more students. The potentially larger Loch Raven school could be a release valve for nearby crowded schools by moving school boundary lines.

Loch Raven High is rated by the state to hold 1,049 students. As of this year, there are 950 students enrolled, according to data from the school system.

The Baltimore County School Board debated the future of Loch Raven during its Jan. 24 meeting.

“Seats are needed,” said Pete Dixit, executive director of facilities management and strategic planning for the county schools.

Dixit warned if a new high school isn’t built, more students will have to go to class in trailers.

District 5 Councilman David Marks, a Republican, was miffed because he said the school system ignored a request from the County Council last fall to consider a different site, this one in Middle River, for a new high school.

“For me, it’s galling that they have not even looked at this site,” Marks said in an interview earlier this month.

The County Council signs off each year on more than $2 billion in funding for the school system.

Despite that, the council has little say about how school officials spend the money. Council members have repeatedly voiced frustration that they are ignored by school officials.

Google Maps
The existing Loch Raven High School in Baltimore County may be relocated in Middle River.

The council passed two resolutions asking for the Middle River site to be considered. The first was last fall. The second was in early January. School Superintendent Darryl Williams, in a Jan. 24 letter to the council, agreed to have the site studied.

Marks said he is pleased with Williams’ decision.

“I need to know if that school site is feasible,” Marks said.

That’s because it’s wrapped up in a plan by a developer, Middle River LLC, to put warehouses on 400 acres in Middle River.

The location was once the home for what was commonly known as the LaFarge Quarry, located near Ebenezer and Earls Roads.

As part of the deal, which has not been finalized, 40 acres would be given to the county.

Concept Plan LaFarge Quarry
Google Maps
Real estate developer Middle River LLC has plans to build warehouses on 400 acres in Middle River that once was home for what was commonly known as the LaFarge Quarry, located near Ebenezer and Earls Roads.

That swath of land could be the location of a new high school. If a school can’t go there, Marks said the county then needs to find some other use for it.

“Can a park go here?” Marks wondered." Can a recreational facility go here?”

During the school board’s Jan. 24 meeting Dixit, the school system’s facilities management executive director, warned that not building a replacement school at Loch Raven would be expensive.

Dixit told the board the state will help pay to replace an existing school like Loch Raven High, but the state will only chip in for part of the cost of a new school that is not strictly a replacement.

“That may create a difference of $30 to $40 million for the county to carry,” Dixit told the board.

New high schools cost around $150 million, according to school officials. That cost is shared between the county and the state.

Baltimore County
Baltimore County District 5

School board member Russ Kuehn was skeptical about the LaFarge Quarry study, noting that the ball has been rolling to begin planning for a new Loch Raven High.

“We have no intention whatsoever of using LaFarge as a site to build a high school on to handle overcrowding in the Northeast area,” Kuehn said.

Dixit replied during the meeting that it will be decided by the school board as well as County Executive Johnny Olszewski and the County Council.

The school board changed the wording of its request for funding for a new high school, removing “Loch Raven” and leaving the location open.

“It leaves it open to the possibility of the LaFarge Quarry as a site,” said board member Julie Henn. “It does not lock in any one particular site.”

The County Council asked for a study of the LaFarge Quarry site to be completed by Feb. 17.

But in his letter to the council, Superintendent Williams said such a study will take several months.

Factors that need to be considered include whether the site can handle cars and buses coming and going, any nearby environmental issues like wetlands and streams, and enrollment projections.

Councilman Marks said no matter how this is decided, it will take years before a new high school is built.

“We’re probably talking the end of this decade,” Marks said. “I’m getting tired of warehousing students. I’m getting tired of building additions on to existing schools and you never see the cafeteria or the gymnasium or the hallways get expanded. It’s a Band-Aid approach. We should just bite the bullet and build a new high school.”

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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