St. Mary's County will request state approval next month to build a new elementary school to replace Carver Elementary School at the southern edge of Lexington Park. Officials will have to find a different site for the new school because Carver lies within the flight path for planes landing at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
Built in 1958, Carver Elementary is on Lincoln Avenue just across Route 235 from the base, a location that puts it within accident-potential zones designated by the Navy. Zoning restrictions in that area, adopted by the county in 1977, limit the density and capacity of facilities that may be built in such zones.
The school system wants an elementary school with a larger capacity than Carver's current 198 to accommodate student growth that officials anticipate from planned housing developments in the Lexington Park Development District. But expanding at the Lincoln Avenue site is out of the question because the zoning restrictions essentially incorporate the Navy's accident zone designations.
Furthermore, the Navy has expressed concern that the current school is in an area of potential risk in the event of an accident.
"If you look at the way we operate, there are zones and there are certain things you shouldn't put there because of mishap potential," said Capt. Paul Roberts, commanding officer of the Naval Air Station.
Roberts said the Navy had hoped Carver students could move out of the building several years ago, but budgetary constraints prevented that.
"Trying to get a school moved and building a school is difficult," he said.
The new elementary school would be somewhere in the Lexington Park Development District and would house 535 students, according to the capital improvements plan approved by the St. Mary's County Board of Education on Wednesday.
If approved by the state, planning for the new school would begin after 2001. The school district would request nearly $4 million in construction funds from the state and pitch in nearly $7 million of local money.
The capital improvements plan details all construction and renovation projects proposed for fiscal years 2001 to 2006. The plan now goes before the county commissioners for their endorsement before the school board presents it to the state Education Department for approval by Oct. 15.
The Air Installations Compatible Use Zone, the area surrounding the Naval Air Station, is divided into three parts, each with a different amount of accident potential. The highest risk is in areas around the ends of the runways. Most of Carver Elementary and its campus is in the zone with the least accident potential, school and Navy officials said.
Nevertheless, concerns about student safety and the effect of aircraft noise on academic achievement were enough to prompt the request for a replacement school, school officials said.
"This is not necessarily a safety issue, but in the long run, it can be," said Stephen Kracinovich, a school board member.
This is not the first time the land-use restrictions in the accident-potential zones have spurred the relocation of a county facility near the Naval Air Station.
When library officials decided it was time to expand the Lexington Park branch of the St. Mary's County Library, they discovered that they couldn't do that at the current site, located half a block from the base. Like Carver, the Lexington Park library is in one of the accident-potential zones.
Instead, county commissioners eventually opted for a new site on South Shangri-La Drive across the street from Lexington Park Elementary School, about 2,000 feet farther away from the base.
CAPTION: STAYING OUT OF HARM'S WAY (This graphic was not available)