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Residents express concerns about regional growth

November 11, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

BOONSBORO - A Boonsboro High School portable classroom was filled almost to capacity Wednesday night by parents and residents concerned about what potential residential growth in the region will do to schools that several said are overcrowded already.

About 50 people attended the Boonsboro High School's Citizens Advisory Committee meeting.

Before the meeting started, Committee Chairwoman Donna Brightman joked, "This is what our classrooms will be like next year, with this student-teacher ratio."

The meeting brought together Boonsboro Town Manager John Kendall, Boonsboro Town Councilman Richard Hawkins and Washington County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer William Blum to talk about regional growth.

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Kendall and Blum gave conflicting opinions - sometimes speaking over each other - about the cause and solution to growth problems.

Kendall said the town's comprehensive plan has estimated, since at least 1997, that there is a potential for up to 2,500 additional housing units to be built into annexed property by the year 2012. It is unknown when property owners will try to annex and develop the land, he said.

Kendall and town residents asked why Blum was not aware of this possibility since it has been part of town plans for years.

"I wish I knew last year what I knew today," said Blum.

Last year there was not much growth expected in the county, Blum said. But in recent weeks, Blum has been giving presentations on a capital plan that would address current and projected enrollment growth by building two elementary schools and a high school, in addition to other projects.

Kendall, Hawkins and others said there must be better communications in the future between the town and the school board.

When that point was made one last time before the meeting ended Blum joked, "I am all communicated out."

Blum's advice to the audience was that they pressure the Boonsboro Town Council to be more aggressive when making annexation agreements to make sure developers pay for their impact on local schools.

Hawkins and Kendall had a different message: The Boonsboro Town Council can't control property outside the town limits.

After the meeting, Hawkins and Kendall said they have always been aggressive with developers.

What currently will halt development of any annexed properties, Hawkins said, is not schools but the need for a wastewater treatment plant estimated to cost about $4.2 million.

Brightman asked if the town can try to delay growth while the school board catches up on providing sufficient facilities.

Before town officials could respond Blum said, "That's a good idea."

Blum said he is urging municipalities to take steps to address growth and not to expect the school board to be able, on its own, to collect enough funding to fully address the problem.

Otherwise, he said, "we are headed towards a potential calamity."

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