We Are in Need of Adequate Public Facilities
Dr. Chao Wu
This article will be published on River Hill “The Villager” August 2017 Issue.
We are facing probably one of the largest school redistricting efforts in the Howard County Public School System’s (HCPSS) history. The current HCPSS redistricting proposal aims to move 8,800 students, the equivalent of 16% of the total student population county-wide, where the River Hill community is greatly impacted as follows:
Elementary Schools: Clarksville sends 42 students to Triadelphia Ridge; Pointers Run sends 160 to Clarksville, 38 to Dayton Oaks and receives 196 from Clemens Crossing.
Middle School: Clarksville Middle sends 28 students to Folly Quarter; and receives 123 from Lime Kiln Middle and 33 from Wilde Lake Middle;
High Schools: Atholton sends 337 students to Hammond High and 614 to River Hill; Atholton receives 325 from Hammond High and 420 from Oakland Mills; River Hill sends 227 to Glenelg High.
This redistricting is urgent and needed because of over-capacity issue in some schools. However, such a large-scale redistricting creates unnecessary burdens and pressures on our students, who are the primary focus of our educational system. This over-capacity problem was created by the imbalance between housing development, public facility development, and insufficient funding of our school system. The urgency of school capacity issues could be greatly mitigated in the future if the to-be-revised HoCo Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO) is modified accordingly.
The balance between school capacity and community development is not so difficult to fix. Just as when we see water leaking, the first thing we do is close the faucet. The overcapacity in our schools is caused by over-development. We need to reduce the speed of development first, and reducing the existing over-capacity now . Otherwise, over-capacity in our schools is like a leaking facet.
With the Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO) is currently being reviewed and planned to be updated by the Howard County Council, we need ask the county council to decrease the ratio for school capacity limits from 120% to 100% and remove the maximum wait times but freeze new project developments when projects fail APFO adequacy tests. Currently when a project fails APFO test first time, it will be automatically pass after three years without another test. When capacity is permitted to be higher than 100%, it means we cannot smooth out the current school over-capacity issue. The result is that we will probably see another large-scale school redistricting in five years.
Adequate means “enough school capacity” to handle the additional students generated by development. Portable classrooms once used become quasi-permanent. A new high school has not been built in the County for a while. Considering that each year HCPSS gains another 1000 students, we need plan ahead. The average elementary school has around 800 students. The annual increase of total students will fill a new elementary school each year. These students will eventually go to high school.
Adequate means “enough road capacity” to handle the additional vehicles generated by development. With many new houses and other facilities being constructed, I do not see much improvement to the local roads. One very example in our community is the intersection at Ten Oaks Road and Clarksville Pike, in front of commercial development under construction. The traffic is both congested and dangerous during peak traffic times. At least, there should be some work to widen both MD 108 and Ten Oaks Road in this location. Please also notice, there are two schools in the vicinity.
Furthermore, we need to be forward-thinking with our roads which means we need to build roads anticipating higher traffic volumes in the future. One example is Route 29. The State Highway Administration is replacing many intersections with overhead bridges which greatly improves the traffic situation. In fact, they should build those bridges when they first design/widen the roads. Planning ahead on the traffic patterns and traffic volumes while building a road may cost more money, but it is really worth the extra money. This upfront investment could be used to build a bridge, widen access to intersection, better signal control system, etc.
I am looking forward to your thoughts on how we ensure there are adequate public facilities.
Chao Wu, Ph.D.
River Hill Representative to Columbia Council and Columbia Association Board of Directors
Disclaimer: This letter only represents Dr. Chao Wu’s personal opinion. It does not represent River Hill Board of Directors nor Columbia Association’s Board.