Sunday, September 24, 2017

Applying the Rules of Redistricting II: Middle Schools

Just like the Elementary Schools, redistricting is being proposed for the Middle Schools throughout the County. Unlike the Elementary Schools, there is no new Middle School opening in the 2018-2019 school year. In fact, there is no opening date for the proposed MS#21 in the southeast which will likely also provide relief to the northeast. There's no site either but I think the large Mission Road site purchased by the County is a good place for it.

10-15 years ago, the County obtained a site via a land swap with a Church, giving them the site for Locust Park ES in Long Reach that was never built. The County got 40 acres at the southeastern corner of Route 40 and Marriottsville Road that they had intended to bank for a future Middle School. This school and this site haven't been mentioned in a while since the need for a Middle School in the northern area of the County hasn't been there. However in the coming years, both Burliegh Manor and Mount View, whose districts border this still undeveloped site, will both be VERY crowded. This site, and the Middle School that will inhabit it, will provide relief and from hereon out will be known as MS#22. Like MS#21, there is no proposed opening date nor is it on any Capital Budgets.

Back to the 2018 Middle School Redistricting. Like the Elementary Schools, I have scaled back the redistricting plans to only include what is very absolutely necessary. In areas that are crowded and will become crowded without nearby capacity, I have left these areas alone because when a new Middle School opens in that area, it will be redistricted yet again. Now, without further ado, I will introduce my redistricting plans region by region.

East Columbia 
I have selected East Columbia's Middle Schools to provide relief to the northeast. Both Oakland Mills and Owen Brown (Lake Elkhorn) can stand to grow in population and create balance not only in population but equity in construction funds. As I have stated before, I'm against building the addition on Ellicott Mills Middle to relieve its crowding and leaving Oakland Mills as a small old school. Instead, I propose tranferring the funds for the Ellicott Mills addition to the Oakland Mills MS Renovation project, and turning the renovation into a replacement school for Oakland Mills with a capacity of 662-701. The redistricting for Ellicott Mills to the now larger Oakland Mills will relieve its crowding.

Owen Brown (Lake Elkhorn) has a larger capacity in its current state but is under crowded. This is why I have proposed redistricting here from Mayfield Woods and Thomas Viaduct which will become over crowded again to balance out Owen Brown (Lake Elkhorn.)

West Columbia
I'm not proposing any redistricting in West Columbia. Although a replacement school for Wilde Lake Middle just opened and it's much larger than its predecessor, it is slated to become crowded in a few short years. Anything redistricted here from Harpers Choice will have to be redistricted yet again when that crowding comes to fruition. The solution for this is another replacement school. This time for Harpers Choice. This will ensure Harpers Choice doesn't become crowded again and may have room in future years to relieve Wilde Lake which without redistricting will still be over crowded.

Although Oakland Mills MS has relieved Ellicott Mills and Owen Brown (Lake Elkhorn) has begun to provide relief for Mayfield Woods and Thomas Viaduct, more relief will be needed. This time, Elkirdge Landing will lend a hand. There will be no changes to Bonnie Branch as it is balanced. When MS#21 opens, there will need to be additional redistricting in the northeast but nothing that is slated to be redistricted now will be redistricted again.

No redistricting is proposed for the northern region even though there is a lot of crowding in the coming years for Middle Schools here. There are however, some capital improvement projects on the way which will up the capacity in this area and begin to relieve crowding. Both Dunloggin and Patapsco have renovations and additions proposed. I would like both of those projects to be converted to replacement schools. Any redistricting in this area can be done after those schools open. MS#22 will be needed in this area as well to relieve Burliegh Manor and Mount View.

No redistricting other than the small Hammond MS/Oakland Mills MS adjustment discussed in the East Columbia section. MS#21 will solve additional crowding in this area when it opens.

The western region has space in its Middle Schools as well. Lime Kiln however is slated to become very crowded and will need its neighboring schools to provide relief for it. Clarksville MS and Folly Quarter will do just that. There will be no changes to Glenwood.

And this concludes the Middle School portion of my "Applying the Rules of Redistricting." In it I have provided some relief for some schools and increased the population for others. In other instances I left crowded areas alone that need an additional Middle School and/or are having their current school undergo a Capital Improvement Project in the coming years and using a wait and see approach. I have also advocated for school equity by suggesting replacement schools at Oakland Mills, Dunloggin, Patapsco, and Harpers Choice. Stay tuned for the High Schools.    

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Applying the Rules of Redistricting I: Elementary Schools

Now you didn't think I would write up the rules of redistricting without coming up with my own plan did you? Well, whether or not you thought so, I did. This plan uses a much more minimalist approach to the number of Schools effected and number of kids moved. I used the mantra that over-crowding can't be remedied in one go around and areas that are getting a new or replacement school in the coming years will remain untouched until said School opens to avoid redistricting the same Neighborhood(s) twice. This is the first of three posts regarding these plans focusing merely on the Elementary Schools by region.

East Columbia.
No changes for East are needed. Talbott Springs is the only crowded school in this region and is slated to get a replacement school in 2021. The replacement school will be much larger thereby taking care of the crowding in the current building without redistricting.

West Columbia
Other than the River's Edge Community, (see Western Region) no changes are needed here either. It's very true that many of the schools here are crowded or will become crowded, ES#44 will open/reopen at the Faulkner Ridge site in 2027 and any short term redistricting proposals for West Columbia will see the same Neighborhoods redistricted then. Another thing to note here is that 100 seat addition on Swansfield is merely to stem the existing district's crowding and can't take anymore students. If Bryant Woods and/or Running Brook were to get replacement Schools, any redistricting done should occur once so as not to redistrict the same Neighborhood twice.

Since this is where the most crowding is and where the lone new school (ES#42) for 2018 is opening, it makes sense that the most redistricting will occur here. First lets list the schools in this region that won't see any changes; Elkridge, Ilchester, Veterans, and Worthington. On the flip side, Bellows Spring, Deep Run, and Ducketts Lane will see the most since they're the most crowded. Lets look at the maps for a closer look.
Here's ES#42

Here's Bellows Spring

And then Finally, Deep Run and Ducketts Lane

Other than schools in the western region providing relief to Manor Woods, there's actually very little else to be done in this region. There will be no changes at Centennial Lane, Holliefield Station, and Northfield. When ES#44 opens in West Columbia, Centennial Lane and Northfield will play a part then. The only other redistricting needed is St. Johns Lane and Waverly. Waverly is having a large addition built as we speak and St. Johns Lane is very crowded. ES#45 is slated to open in the new Turf Valley Development in the 2020s but it will be a replacement for West Friendship. I'm hoping that redistricting for this new school is minimal and won't involve Neighborhoods that were already redistricted in 2018.
and Manor Woods 

The Southeast is beginning to experience crowding again, I'm not proposing any redistricting in this region until 2023 when ES#43 opens. Any and all redistricting that would happen now would be redistricted yet again in 2023. I'm including Fulton as part of the southeast for the purposes of this post. The most likely site for ES#43 will be the Mission Road Site in Jessup recently purchased by the County. 
The Western part of the County is different from the rest in that its schools have space to fill. This is good because with Manor Woods being as crowded as it is, I had used West Friendship and Tridelphia Ridge to relieve it. By these two schools relieving Manor Woods, they will themselves become over-crowded. Bushy Park and Clarksville will relieve West Friendship and Tridelphia Ridge respectively. Dayton Oaks will receive students from Pointers Run which will in turn receive students from Clemens Crossing. No changes will be made to Lisbon or Fulton.
now Dayton Oaks and Pointers Run

This concludes the Elementary School portion of my plan for the 2018 school year. I tried my best to minimize redistricting and maximize capacities in the northeast and western regions of the County. Since more schools are needed in the other regions, I'm waiting to delve into redistricting those areas until those new schools open so as not to redistrict the same Neighborhoods twice. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Rules of Redistricting

If you've seen the latest proposals for next year's redistricting, you'll know that it's all over the place, unnecessarily redistricts far more students, doesn't take into account that these same Neighborhoods will be redistricted again when new schools in the area are built, and sends kids to schools that are much further away than their current one. In some cases it forces current walkers to be bused to a far away school. In order to make sense out of this, some rules and semblance of common sense needs to be established. This post will do just that.
You can't simply solve over-crowding in foul swoop. There's only one new School opening in 2018 which is ES#42 in the northeast. It is true that there are other areas in the County that are over-crowded as well as over-crowded middle and high schools. By doing a grandiose County wide plan, the Schools may be balanced for a year or two but over-crowding will resume in no time at all at the cost of severing communities.

Luckily, there are plans to open additional schools in the coming years which will address over-crowding such as ES#43 in the southeast, ES#44 in West Columbia(new Faulkner Ridge ES), ES#45 (West Friendship replacement school in Turf Valley) HS#13 in Elkridge or Jessup, MS#21 in the northeast or southeast, and a Talbott Springs replacement school. Since none of these additional schools are opening in 2018, so redistrict those areas WHEN those new or replacement schools DO open.
Also, there's no need to empty out and refill an already balanced or slightly under or over crowded school. Take Oakland Mills HS, it can absorb another 100-200 students. All one would need to do is add 100-200 students from a nearby crowded school to Oakland Mills. Yet, what's being proposed is taking long standing areas of the Oakland Mills community and up-rooting them to other schools. Then Oakland Mills is slated to be completely re-populated with far away communities along the Route 1 Corridor which will over-crowd Oakland Mills in a few short years. Similar proposals are slated for Wilde Lake HS and Atholton HS. With these schools, less is more.
Don't touch a School that may balance itself out shortly. Take Marriotts Ridge, it's under-crowded right now but with some many newer communities and crowded Elementary in Middle Schools in its District, it's going to fill itself up. Redistricting other communities into it is very short sighted. The Communities slated to be redistricted there are much closer than the schools they're in now for the most part. I agree Neighboring Schools like Centennial and Mount Hebron are very crowded and will continue to be so. However, Centennial is slated for a renovation that may up its capacity. And/or the Centennial/Mount Hebron area may/should be the location for HS#14. Preferably in the Worthington area so that it's not close to other Schools.
Speaking of close to other schools, Howard County is terrible at picking out school sites. The proposed site for HS#13 isn't any better. There's a site in Elkridge at Montgomery Road and Landing Road that is closer to the growth. Redistricting to fill in Jessup will continue the trend of breaking up Neighborhoods and even fewer people not going to their Neighborhood School. If you look at the location of high schools, you will see that they're clumped to together. Reservoir, River Hill, Atholton, Wilde Lake, and Hammond are all a stones throw from each other and then most of their districts reach far out into areas with no high school like North Laurel. Howard and Long Reach are like this too. If you're within walking distance to one, you're within walking distance to the other. Both schools then reach a long arm and bus Elkridge into their schools. The Landing road site for HS#13 will give Elkridge its own High School with many walkers. The Mission Road site will not. It will however make a good site for another Elementary and Middle School in future years.
Our last redistricting rule has less to do with redistricting and more to do with capital improvement projects and school equity. It more has to do with not over funding one school and under funding another one. Take the proposed addition to Ellicott Mills Middle. This is already a newer School that uses the current Middle School Prototype. Neighboring Oakland Mills Middle. There's a capital improvement project for a renovation of this school. Oakland Mills Middle is not a prototype school and it is a much smaller building. In the name of school equity, I propose leaving Ellicott Mills as is, transferring those to the Oakland Mills project, and upgrading the Oakland Mills project to a replacement School using the current Middle School prototype. Appropriate redistricting will follow once this replacement Oakland Mills opens.
Although Howard County is beginning to see this way, they must look at future renovation projects of older schools are replacement schools. First, doing so helps create a better school equity balance and second, these replacement schools will be larger than their current predecessors and can relieve crowding with less redistricting. In addition to Oakland Mills MS, I ask that replacement schools be considered in the following renovations; Dunloggin MS, Patapsco MS, Jeffers Hill ES, Harpers Choice MS, Atholton ES, and either Bryant Woods and/or Running Brook ES. ES#45 will be a replacement for West Friendship ES. ES#44 in Faulkner Ridge can act as swing space if needed as well.
If you've seen the latest redistricting proposals, you will know just how out there it is and that it moves too many students without warrant and these same Neighborhoods will get redistricted again  as more new schools open and the short sighted redistricting will over-crowd the schools in a short years yet again. But if we simply follow these rules of redistricting, we can minimize the number of impacted students and gradually reduce crowding in Howard County.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mall Master Plan I: The Lord & Taylor Plaza

Back in 2012 I wrote a post suggesting that the Mall should demolish and re-open Lord and Taylor to make a second Lifestyle Plaza directly across from what was then, the soon to be opened outdoor Plaza that replaced LL Bean. I love that idea but I'm afraid it isn't that practical but I still want to create a similar outdoor plaza on the other side of the Mall to bring life to what I consider to be the Mall's Outback.
The Mall parking lot, in the instance of the other four Department Stores, is very accessible to them. With Lord and Taylor, the opposite is true. There are parking decks that lead into the store itself and that side of the Mall but how does one get there from say; the Lakefront? When looking at Lord and Taylor from Little Patuxent Parkway, there are no connecting sidewalks, no pathways, or no exterior connecting roads that welcomes you to Lord and Taylor. Or the Mall in general for that matter. The only way to get there is to walk down Little Patuxent Parkway to find the J.C. Penney entrance or the Macy's entrance. Or you could walk through the grass on the steep hill to Lord and Taylor or the adjacent Mall Entrance and risk injury. 
That other Mall Entrance near Lord and Taylor has been mostly forgotten. While Bun Penney was still open and Lord and Taylor had yet to be built, that was a different story. When looking at the area, you can see why. Although I like trees, the trees at this entrance make it seem unwelcoming and in the way. There's also no real connection to the lone Merrill Lynch building. When comparing this to the newly opened plaza on the other side of Mall, it feels like two completely different places.
So what does this Mall Entrance have going for it? A great line of sight. Well, if you get rid of the trees all over it you will. That line of sight makes a straight shot into Wincopin Circle which of course leads right to the Lakefront. I would also like to point out that Wincopin Circle is in the midst of large scale redevelopment currently. A long vacant plat of land is getting a mixed use high rise, the American City Building will be redeveloped as a similar concept, and most likely there will be redevelopment of the parking deck where the vacant Copeland's was. This will no doubt bring life to Little Patuxent Parkway across from Lord and Taylor. But will it make a connection to the Mall?
This is where the Lord and Taylor Plaza will be built. The redevelopment on Wincopin Circle, the rebirth of the lakefront, and the integration of the Merrill Lynch building and connecting the Mall to all of it shows how crucial it is to all Downtown. The Plaza will extend outdoors from the current Mall Entrance just like the current Plaza does. It will connect to the Merrill Lynch building on one side and it will extend to Little Patuxent Parkway and Wincopin Circle with shops on either side that are a mix of those already in the Mall and newcomers to Columbia.
The side of the Plaza that Lord and Taylor is on will be more difficult to build additional shops. Lord and Taylor impedes on that area so either Lord and Taylor will have to expand towards Macy's to reclaim that square footage, or they would have a smaller first floor. Department Stores (especially Sears lately) have been shrinking the size of their stores lately so Lord and Taylor doing so for the construction of the plaza wouldn't be out of the question.
The Retail spaces in the plaza would be for larger size stores (like Pottery Barn) that can't find space in the mall since the few vacant store fronts in the Mall are very small. Like the existing plaza, it will have large Restaurants at the end welcoming you into the plaza. The Restaurants I would put is California Pizza Kitchen and Phillips Seafood. The plaza walk way would extend to Wincopin Circle where a traffic signal and pedestrian signal will cross Little Patuxent Parkway. That same stretch of Little Patuxent Parkway will gain sidewalks as well.
Although this second plaza is a very large development plan, it is only the first of many in a series of a Master Plan for Columbia Mall to keep it competitive and a regional shopping destination for decades to come. Stay tuned for more.        

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What About the Pools?

Yes, what about the Pools? One crucial part of the Columbia Experience is its outdoor pools. Not all pools are created equal as newer part of Columbia have newer Pools. Some older pools are showing age and need additional uses to get more visitors. Other Pools need to be modernized in order to make them equal to newer pools while other need to be replaced all together. In this post, I will identify which pools fall into which category and proposed expanded uses when needed.

First lets identify the "new" pools some of these may actually be older ones that have already been modernized. In addition to have the most up to date features, these pools are less likely to have competing pools nearby as well and are well attended. River Hill, Swansfield, Dickinson, Clary's Forest, Hawthorne, Kendall Ridge, Hopewell, and Dorsey Hall. 

Next we have well attended pools that could stand to be modernized to keep their attendance high for generations to come. Pools like this can generally be found on the outer edges of Columbia and have little competition from other pools. To modernize these pools I would add features like mushroom waterfalls, water park features found at newer pools, volleyball courts, wave pool entries, snack bars, and renovated and expanded locker rooms. These pools include Stevens Forest, Thunder Hill, Huntington, MacGills Common, Dasher Green, Phelps Luck, Jeffers Hill, Clemens Crossing, and Longfellow.

Next we come to Pools that are very centrally located and as a result are in competition with other pools and in order to up their attendance, other options should be considered. Fortunately, I have evaluated these pools and I have come up with solutions for them.

Faulkner Ridge- This pool is sandwiched in between Bryant Woods and Longfellow and isn't as well attended as others. This area of Columbia also has a lot of Seniors in it. My solution would be to make Faulkner Ridge a "55 or better Pool." This will give Seniors an Outdoor Pool experience that haven't had yet. In addition, Residents of Senior Living Communities like Vantage House and Harmony Hall can be bused to this pool for so that Residents who no longer drive can use it.

Locust Park- There is a pool north, south, and east of this pool (Phelps Luck, Jeffers Hill, and Kendall Ridge respectively.) That alone makes Locust Park a candidate to be altered to up its attendance. That's why on the weekends, I would make Locust Park, Columbia's first "Night Pool." Night Pool is exactly what it sounds like. In an effort to attract more single Millennials to Columbia, I'm proposing having Locust Park Pool be closed during the day on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but opening it at about 5 or 6 at night on Friday and Saturday nights until about midnight. This will be only for adults 18+ however Alcohol will NOT be served. During the week, Locust Park will be open normal hours for kids and adults of all ages. 

Talbott Springs- Talbott Springs Pool always seemed to be off the beaten path to me. The more centrally located Stevens Forest Pool always appears to be busier and in some cases, could be closer for Talbott Springs Residents. This point has only been made stronger since 2013 when lots of Talbott Springs Residents were redistricted from their titular Elementary School to Stevens Forest. When the new Roger Carter Community Center opened in Ellicott City, it now features a new pool with a retractable roof for year round use. I would build this apparatus at Talbott Springs to allow for year round use and inclement weather use.

Next we come to the Pools that need to be replaced. This has nothing to do with the condition and or attendance levels at these two pools however their adjacent Elementary Schools should eventually be replaced with larger buildings and moving the Pools will up the acreage for the Elementary School Sites. These pools/Elementary Schools are Bryant Woods and Running Brook. This is not surprising since these schools are taking the majority of Downtown Columbia. I would move the Running Brook across the parking as well as the Neighborhood Center adjacent to the telephone building. Due to Resident outcry, I would not build a new 7-11. Bryant Woods Pool I would move in between the Lornwood Daycare Center and Morning Wind Lane. New pools and new Schools will definitely be beneficial to both Bryant Woods and Running Brook.

The only pool I have yet to mention in this post is Hobbit's Glen. Hobbit's Glen is off the beaten path and is considerably smaller than other outdoor pools. I would have it modernized like many other pools in Columbia and I would try to make it a back up Pool for ones that become over-crowded very quickly. Some Residents have wanted a second Pool for River Hill but since Hobbit's Glen is close to River Hill, I would send extra visitors to Hobbit's to up its attendance. I would however bank a site in River Hill's Pheasant Ridge Neighborhood for future use. 

As the title says, What About the Pools? They can be easy to overlook as compared to other amenities of  Columbia but the state of the Pools, like any amenity large or small, can't be overlooked and must evolve and change with the rest of Columbia.    

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The South and West Mall Promenade

One great decision was made when the Metropolitan at Columbia Town Center was built; there's a wide promenade that's landscaped along the Mall side of the property. Although the developers of this new Apartment building may not have intended to do this, they started what could be an entire promenade trail along the entire exterior "ring" road surrounding the Mall. Here's how.
First, I'm only going to focus on the southern and western portions of the Mall Ring Road because that's where the current development and redevelopment are occurring. Since the two new buildings of the Metropolitan currently under construction are part of the same development, I'm going to assume that the promenade will continue along the Mall side of those buildings. If this is true which I hope it is, the Promenade will extend from Broken Land Parkway to Gramercy Place crossing Town Center Boulevard and the soon to be extended Twin Rivers Road.
The main focus will for this post will be on the south side of the Mall Ring Road known as "Corporate Row" These Office Buildings have been built sporadically throughout Columbia's history with small parking decks in their vicinity. They appear distant from the Mall and the new Metropolitan Apartments. In an effort to unify generate foot traffic other than office tenants, the owners of Corporate Row have begun designating the ground floor(s) of these buildings as Retail. Since these buildings appear at the far southern end of the Mall parking lot, they need to feel more connected to the rest of the Mall Ring Road and therefore, Town Center as a whole.
So how do we do that? We expand the Promenade in front of the new Metropolitan Apartments southward into the Corporate Row area to create a flow and connection between all of the buildings. First, a better crossing between Gramercy Place and Mall Ring Road is required. I'm thinking either a three way stop or a traffic signal would be in order with clearly marked crosswalks. The area directly south of Gramercy Place is a surface parking lot with a parking deck behind it. Within that surface lot is a drive thru pad for the Columbia Bank.
My plan is to remove the drive thru and turn the surface lot into an extension of the Promenade. To create a more welcoming environment, the parking deck that acts as a backdrop for this extension of the promenade will be a painted mural with landscaping around it to offset the drab concrete that currently flanks the parking garage.
The next structure is the high rise known as 60 Corporate Row. This building juts out onto Mall Ring Road more than its neighboring building but I believe the Promenade can be extended without relocating any roads. However, I would relocate the front doors of the building to Mall Ring Road so that any planned ground floor Retail can be easily accessed from the Promenade. There are plans for additional ground floor Retail in the back of this building but I don't think it will be accessible enough.
I would next extend the Promenade to 40 Corporate Row. Here the Office Building has better setback than 60 Corporate Row. There is Ground Floor Retail being proposed for both the front side of the building that faces Mall Ring Road and the backside which doesn't have very good frontage. There is also some space in between 40 and 60 Corporate Row that I would turn into a pocket park. The way this land is set up now has lots of concrete and stairs. I would flatten the land to get rid of the stairs and plant more greenery and landscaping with better lighting and seating.
Behind 40 and 60 Corporate Row is 50 Corporate Road. there is Ground Floor Retail for lease here but this space isn't visible enough from Mall Ring Road. 50 Corporate Center foes however have Little Patuxent Parkway frontage, so it may be a better idea to reconfigure that building so that Ground Floor Retail is available on that side.
Although the long term goal for this Promenade is to circle the entirety of Mall Ring Road, there are many other parts of the Road that will probably be subject to redevelopment (such as 1 Mall North, near Lord & Taylor, and the buildings just north of South Entrance Road. That is why this post is focused solely on the South and West Mall Promenade.