Cecil County, Schools Map Future Business Uses for Basell Tech School Land; Who Pays is Unknown

September 2, 2015

The Cecil County government and the Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) have signed an agreement mapping possible future business uses of extra land not needed for the new vo-tech school on the more than 90-acre Basell property. But left in the air is who would pay to build office and other buildings and whether the county would sell or lease parcels on the site to private interests.

From the moment that the county government first considered buying the Appleton Road property several years ago for use as a vocational-technical school, an added attraction was the large landmass surrounding the former Basell scientific laboratory building north of Elkton. And promoting economic development opportunities on some of the vacant land surrounding the main building was always in the cards.

With conversion of the existing building and its many science labs into the county’s new vo-tech school now completed, the first class of 200 students recently began studies there. County Superintendent of Schools D’Ette Devine told the Cecil County Council on Tuesday that the school will more than double the number of vo-tech students, to about 420, in January when new vocational programs will be launched and additional specialized study areas opened.

Dr. Devine said a greenhouse is being added to the school site for students in a new agriculture science program and a natural resources program will also be added to the curriculum. Students attend the vo-tech school for the second half of their junior year and the first half of their senior year, so students at the school now began their studies at the old vo-tech school that had been deemed outdated for years. Devine said the old school, which opened in 1968, was the first vo-tech school in the state.

Purchase of the Basell site was stymied by the old “Three Amigos” majority of the County Commissioners board, but when the new County Council came into office in late 2012, the new majority moved ahead with the project. The property was purchased, in part, with money raised by the sale of county bonds, but is actually owned by CCPS, as required under state law for schools built or acquired with partial state funds.

Under a memorandum of understanding between the county government and CCPS, four parcels not needed for potential future school facilities expansion could be turned over to the county government for possible economic development projects as opportunities arise. A map shows a “butterfly” shaped building with 16,000 square feet in each ‘wing’ that would likely be the first site to be developed with multiple small-space office or business users.

In addition, the map lists a 15,000 square foot box-like building; and a larger 44,000 square foot building. Another site, proposed for 34,000 feet on a separate area of the land, is also mapped out but county officials said that site was problematic because it lacked public water and sewage services.

County Executive Tari Moore, making a rare appearance before the County Council, gushed that the plan was “a project and a vision that has been in process for months.”

Lisa Webb, the county’s director of economic development, said the concept plan reflected “a wonderful idea of what could happen on this property.” She said the county is conducting a feasibility study for creation of a “business incubator,” which would help small start-up companies launch. Such an “incubator” could be located in the “butterfly” building.

County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) asked multiple practical questions, for which there were few answers.

Would the county “sell, lease or build to suit” the proposed buildings listed on the map, he asked. Would the county just sell or lease land to a private developer? And “what’s the next step?”

Webb said that county was “not in the business” of building commercial business properties so it would be better to “partner” with a business or organization and the county would need to “explore” how to do that.

She said that most businesses looking for sites in the county are looking for “small” spaces, not large buildings.

One thing that the map apparently accomplishes is setting out a broad land use map—including setting aside an area for a possible expansion to the county’s sixth full “comprehensive” high school. Devine said the county is about a decade away from having sufficient student population to convince the state to support construction on the site for a full service high school in addition to the specialized, limited enrollment of the tech programs.

Space is also set aside for sports fields and additional parking that may be needed in the future.

The plan does not alter a lease for 8 acres set aside to create a Cecil County Farm Museum. Advocates have been trying to build a farm museum for years, and they struck a deal with CCPS for a long-term essentially free lease, in return for the museum raising private funds to renovate a historic but dilapidated old farm building that will become the museum. Some citizens objected that CCPS should not have unilaterally granted that land to the museum group, without County Council review, since the county put up bond funds that will have to be repaid by all taxpayers for the purchase of the overall site.

The agreement between the county and CCPS is of limited duration—until 6/30/19. Language in the agreement states that the county government and CCPS are studying the “feasibility of a partnership that will foster economic development and generate funding for both parties with the goal of entering into such a partnership on or before” 6/30/17. That provision suggests that the schools hope to share in any gains the county might make if a parcel is sold or leased to some private business entity.

The color-coded map sets up a broad land use plan but the success of the concept will depend on whether any businesses are sufficiently interested in locating at the site and are willing to come up with the necessary money.

Several months ago, a business operating on its own site close to the Basell land approached the county about possibly buying some of the property, sources said. It is unknown if that approach is still a live prospect or if it would conform to the new, site-specific map.

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One Response to Cecil County, Schools Map Future Business Uses for Basell Tech School Land; Who Pays is Unknown

  1. Harold McCanick on September 6, 2015 at 11:23 am

    Thieves! The taxpayers got steamrolled with Tari Moore’s approval. Do the math, an ag museum that won’t do didley squat for our tax base got 8+acres and economic development got FOUR !WOW! Thank you so much (major sarcasm)!If Lisa Webb is OK with this she is foolish and not looking out for the taxpayers that purchased the property in the first place.

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