County purchases land between New Market and Urbana for 11th high school

Sep. 19—Frederick County Executive Jessica Fitzwater announced on Tuesday that the county had purchased a 119-acre plot of land for a future high school.

The site, which Fitzwater, D, called the Burall Farm Property, sits at the intersections of Md. 80 and Md. 75 between New Market and Urbana. The county purchased the land for $2.2 million, which she said was "well below market value."

The family who owned the land wanted it to go to public use and not residential development, Fitzwater said.

The news came during a press conference in which Fitzwater also announced a settlement in a years-long land use dispute between the county, the town of New Market and a developer.

The settlement could allow the Calumet development, a community of more than 900 homes planned for New Market, to move forward.

FCPS projects the development will generate about 540 new students in an area where schools are already nearing or over capacity.

As part of the county's settlement, the developer of that community will pay at least $8.6 million in mitigation fees — adjusted for inflation — that the county will put toward school construction.

County spokeswoman Vivian Laxton said Tuesday that the county would aim to channel those mitigation fees into projects in the Linganore and Oakdale feeder patterns.

The $8.6 million won't come as a lump sum, Laxton said. Rather, the funds will trickle in as the development gets built, and they'll be allocated as school capacity needs arise, she said.

Under Frederick County Public Schools' current Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP), design for the new high school would begin in 2029. A redistricting process is slated to start in 2030, and the building is set to open in the fall of 2033.

The school would relieve overcrowding at Walkersville, Linganore, Oakdale and Urbana high schools, the EFMP says.

FCPS enrollment projections predict that by 2032, those four schools together will exceed their capacity by more than 2,000 students.

Meanwhile, the maximum ideal size for a high school is 1,600 students, according to Frederick County Board of Education policy.

FCPS hopes to build two new elementary schools in the eastern or southern portion of the county before building a new high school, according to the EFMP.

Dean Rose, vice president of the school board, praised the acquisition of the high school site on Tuesday.

He said it was an example of "how closely [the school board] is working with all of our partners," including the county government.

"We've always been working toward the same goal, but haven't worked in collaboration as much as we could," he said.

FCPS is by far the fastest growing school system in Maryland. Officials have expressed concern about the county's rapid growth and the school system's aging portfolio of buildings.

Last week, Frederick County Councilman Steve McKay, R, whose district includes the new school site, called for a moratorium on residential development to address school capacity.

At Tuesday's news conference, Fitzwater said she was "keenly aware of the challenges our school system faces, particularly in this part of the county" while working to resolve the land use dispute related to the Calumet development.

"This property is an ideal site for a school to serve the New Market and Urbana growth areas," she said.

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