New Courthouse Alternative: Swap HoCo Bendix Road Site for HCPSS Marriottsville Road Site

The Howard County Executive has submitted a proposal to the Council to construct a new courthouse on the site of the Dorsey Building on Bendix Road. This site is a very poor choice of the location for a civic institution as important as a courthouse. However, the factors that make it a poor location for a courthouse, make it a good location for a middle school.

There are a number of benefits to be achieved by swapping the Bendix Road site owned by Howard County with the Marriottsville Road Land Bank site being held by the HCPSS for a new middle school. The Marriottsville Road could be used to construct the new courthouse. However, because this location is not ideal for a courthouse, the property could be sold to finance the purchase of other properties–perhaps closer to the County Detention Center.

Maryland does not appear to have suggested criteria for selecting a location for a courthouse; however other states and federal agencies do have  elements to be considered in site selection. The Virginia Courthouse Facility Guidelines states:

“A major consideration should be the impact that a move will have on the public and client populations. How accessible is the new location? Is public transportation available? Is there sufficient parking? Another factor to be considered is the affect that a move will have on the movement of in-custody defendants and how transportation costs will be affected.”

The Virginia Guidelines list other criteria that should be considered. Among these are prominence of the site, proximity to other public buildings, and ease of public access.

Prominence of site.  A courthouse on Bendix Road will have no prominence. The building will NOT be visible from Route 108. It is tucked away behind other buildings and treed lots.

It is this lack of prominence that helps make the site well-suited for a middle school.

Proximity of other public buildings. There are no other public buildings currently near the Dorsey Building. The long-term plans for the Bendix Road site other than the courthouse, have not been announced. On the other hand, a middle school does not need any other buildings to function.

Ease of public access. The primary access to the Bendix site is from Route 108. The secondary access is an indirect route past homes in the Columbia Hills Meadowbrook Farms neighborhood. The residents would probably not welcome traffic cutting through the neighborhood from the Meadowbrook Park along 100 to get to the courthouse. Yet, such traffic from their own neighborhood would be welcome to go to a nearby middle school.

At nearly 29 acres, the Bendix site meets the requirements of an 800-900 seat school. Located in the southeast corner of the Northern Region it meets the need expressed in the Feasibility Study to “ultimately relieve crowding in the Northern and Columbia West Regions.” The location along the Route 108 Corridor, is well-suited to serve neighborhoods currently attending Harpers Choice and Wilde Lake Middle Schools. This will free up seats to accommodate the growth in Downtown Columbia.




columbia-east-middle-schoolsOn the other hand, the Marriottsville Road land bank site held by the HCPSS in the northeastern end of the Western Region is not adjacent to the confluence of the Northern, Northeast, Columbia West and Columbia East Regions where the major growth is occurring. The Marriottsville Road site also does not meet the requirements of Policy 6000 with its elongated and extreme shape with an approximately 100 foot wide choke point in the middle of the parcel. While the parcel is listed in the Feasibility Study as 41 acres, it is really two parcels of approximately 13 and 28 acres divided by the choke point. The site also has a hilly topography and wetland and drainage issues especially along the Marriottsville Road side.

Marriottsville Road Land Bank – Frontage on Route 40

Swapping the Bendix site is not a new idea. In 2004, County Executive Robey considered a proposal to sell the Dorsey Building to help finance the construction of a new courthouse.  Constructing a middle school on Bendix Road and selling the Marriottsville Road property could be the best verdict for the HCPSS and Howard County and a new courthouse.

School Board Reform 101: Change is Coming Regardless in 2018

Change is coming to the Howard County Schools with the elections in 2018–if not before.  Currently there is of course the petition to not renew Superintendent  Renee Foose’s contract.  And there is the state bill to change from an at-large election of School Board Members to one with districts.

Yet, the political landscape in Howard County will be wide open in the 2018 election.  Changing to district school board elections at that time might not be a prudent addition for the voters in Howard County.

To understand what might happen in 2018, one must first look to the Atterbeary/Weinstein proposed state bill to have Howard County School Board Members elected by County Council Districts.  The bill proposes electing seven members: one from each of the Councilmanic Districts and two at-large members.  The terms will no longer be staggered. Therefore, under the bill some candidates will probably consider running for both a district seat and the at-large seats and only decide which seat to seek after they gauge their competition and determine which candidacy will be most advantageous to them.

Now add to this what will be happening with the County Council.  Four of the five members will be term-limited after serving three terms: Calvin Ball, Jen Terresa, Mary Kay Sigaty and Greg Fox will all be moving on.  Only Jon Weinstein will be eligible for reelection.

Some of the members of the School Board will probably run for these open seats on the County Council.  Courtney Watson and Mary Kay Sigaty both served on the School Board before moving on to the County Council. Former School Board Candidate Zaneb Beams might decide to run again for Council as she did in 2010. If the School Board Members decide to run for Council this will in itself leave several open seats on the School Board.

Yet, in the candidacy process, it seems conceivable that some candidates would consider running for three positions: County Council, School Board District and School Board At-Large seats (And they might even run for Columbia Council or Columbia Village seats too.) and then withdraw from two of the races after they see what the election landscape looks like and who their opponents will be and decide which candidacy will be most advantageous to them.  Such election games might be unseemly to some. Consider for example when Janet and Nayab Siddiqui were both running for Delegate in 2014 or when Reg Avery ran for Council and for Oakland Mills Columbia Council Representative.

Thus, while such gameplaying might happen anyway, should the State of Maryland encourage it my making all of the elective seats in Howard County open at the same time so that prospective candidates really having no other alternative but to consider all of their options and wait to see what happens on the filing deadline day?  The line at the Board of Elections might be quite long as the clock clicks down to closing time.