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Board concerned about Fort development

October 25, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The proposed development of the former Fort Ritchie U.S. Army base has the Washington County Board of Education worried about the potential impact on Cascade Elementary School, according to a letter from the School Board.

Facing rising enrollments throughout the county, the School Board wrote in an Oct. 20 letter to PenMar Development Corp. board chairman George Griffin that Cascade might have to be "modernized" to accommodate increasing student populations at Smithsburg and Old Forge elementary schools.

The former base, which is proposed to be developed into a mix of residential and commercial uses, might add to Cascade's enrollment.

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"We are writing to express our concern regarding the potential impact on Cascade School and to inform you that expansion and/or heavy use of this facility will be very limited due to a number of factors, namely: the current limited size of the school; need for major repair and modernization, as well as limited area on which to build any additions," the School Board wrote.

As of Sept. 30, Cascade had an enrollment of 135 students, or is 26 percent full. The school has the capacity to hold 519 students, according to School Board statistics.

The school lost 15 students, or 10 percent, from Sept. 30, 2003 to Sept. 30, 2004, according to the numbers.

Countywide, the entire school system grew at a rate of 2.1 percent from Sept. 30, 2003 to Sept. 30, 2004, or an increase of 426 students. As of Sept. 30, the system's enrollment was 20,310 students.

The School Board projects an enrollment growth of 547 students between Sept. 30, 2004, and Sept. 30, 2005, or a rate of 2.6 percent.

PenMar has agreed to sell the approximately 630-acre base to Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) of Columbia, Md., for $9 million. The price would drop to $5 million if COPT creates 1,400 jobs over nine years.

According to COPT's preliminary development plan of the base announced last month, the base would consist of 673 dwelling units, including 90 single-family homes, 166 town houses, 152 garden apartments and other types of housing.

All of the approximately 600 dwelling units that exist on the base now, with the exception of 92 duplexes, would be demolished and replaced, according to the preliminary plan.

Washington County planning officials are considering several options to deal with growing school enrollments, including whether to propose that developers be required to set aside land within large residential developments for schools and whether to raise the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) schools fee to help cover the costs of buying land for schools.

Developers who build in areas where schools are at 85 percent capacity must pay a $7,355 per dwelling unit APFO fee to the county. That money is to go toward increasing school capacity, such as building schools or additional classrooms.

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