Commercial, school projects take shape in Urbana area

Thursday, Dec. 29, 2005

This year marked a lot of progress in Urbana. Several of the long-promised projects (schools, libraries and grocery stores) broke ground, and more shopping centers are taking shape as the year comes to an end.

It can be confusing to keep track of the moving mounds of dirt and what they will become in the near future. Below, you can find a comprehensive list of the major projects in the area, as of The Gazette’s press deadline.

Potomac Garden Center

Potomac Garden Center has been a family owned business for more than 21 years in Gaithersburg.

A new branch of the company will take up 20 acres on the north side of Fingerboard Road in Urbana. David Angell, vice president of the garden center, said its retail store opened on Sept. 15.

The garden center specializes in domestic and exotic plants as well as equipment and products to help grown them. Potomac Garden Center has been established in Gaithersburg for more than 20 years.

‘‘We had a good fall season and have had a good holiday season,” he said. ‘‘It’s still very much a work in progress. The greenhouse probably will not go up until springtime, but we’ve been getting the word out and seeing lots of familiar faces.”

A significant amount of landscaping has been done on the 20-acre property, but turning the dirt and grass into living display gardens will take much longer to complete.

‘‘It’s a big property and a big project,” Angell said, adding that the reception from the community has been positive so far.

Greenbriar Kennel Pet Resort and Veterinary Center

The Greenbriar Pet Resort and Veterinary Center made significant strides to completing its Urbana facility located across Fingerboard Road from the garden center.

When finished, the 30-acre property will feature a kennel, veterinary hospital and walking trails.

The kennels themselves will feature 100 indoor⁄outdoor runs for pets, trails for dog walking and heated floors throughout the facility.

A veterinary staff will be on-call 24 hours a day, according to Jon Rosen, a co-owner of Greenbriar Kennels.

The center will also include a health and rehabilitation center for animals. Construction is expected to be complete in the summer.

Urbana District Park

The future Urbana District Park moved ahead in the county’s project timeline when Old National Pike District Park opened in Mount Airy this year.

The Old National Pike park opened in July, leaving the Utica District Park and Urbana’s future public playground to be built.

Urbana District Park will be built on almost 100 acres near the intersection of Tabler Road and Md. Route 355 (Urbana Pike). The county could approve designs from contractors and construction as early as summer 2006.

The park is expected to have three soccer⁄lacrosse fields, a little-league baseball field, a large playground, lighted basketball courts, and a 350-foot baseball field and 385-foot softball field.

Amenities would be added over time to save costs on the multi-million dollar project.

The park’s master plan was first approved in 2002, and will balance passive and active recreation between the fields and several shelters capable of holding between 60-150 people.

There could also be two and a half miles of trails, playgrounds for two age brackets and a multipurpose building when the park is finished.

The park could also utilize an existing lake, wooded portion and a creek that runs through the property.

Route 355 bypass

Work is more than halfway done on re-routing Md. Route 355 to alleviate traffic from the older part of Urbana and bring anxious shoppers to the Urbana Town Center.

The new route will feature two traffic circles, like those found in the Villages of Urbana, which will slow traffic rather than halt it with stoplights.

The road begins just south of Tabler Road and the future Urbana District Park. It continues southeast until crossing Fingerboard Road (Md. Route 80) and reconnecting to the existing Route 355.

There are three phases of construction. The first of which was completed this year, and includes the north section up to the first traffic.

The second phase, expected to be finished next year will finish the connection to Fingerboard Road

The third leg of the bypass, from Fingerboard Road south to Route 355, has no definite timeline.

It will be designed to handle the increased amount of traffic flowing into the area for the emerging commercial center.

Urbana Town Center

The library will anchor the town center that Natelli Communities expects to be a hub of retail activity in southern Frederick County.

The center will encompass several blocks along the Md. Route 355 bypass under construction.

Both the library and shopping center broke ground in the heart of the Villages of Urbana this year.

The library is expected to open this summer and a Giant Food supermarket is expected to open this fall, according to Natelli Communities.

Traffic circles will slow cars to control the flow through the estimated 200,000 square feet of retail stores and open plazas.

The first half of the center will start with the Giant Food supermarket that is expected to be finished soon after the library is complete, followed by sandwich and coffee shops and retail stores. Natelli would not say which stores would be in the town center because contracts are not finalized.

Urbana Library

Construction crews broke ground this summer on a 25,000-square-foot public library expected to open in the summer.

“It's nice when you can remodel and improve an existing library, but to put one where it hasn't been before, that's something special,“ said Darrell Batson, director of Frederick County Public Libraries, at the groundbreaking ceremony in June.

The library is planned to open with a 55,000-volume collection of books, CDs and DVDs spread among the children's and teen sections, family reading room and quiet study rooms.

The library will have two meeting rooms open to the public.

The three-story building will also house a 5,000-square-foot senior center on the lower level.

The center will feature an all-purpose dining room that can be divided for multiple activities and a kitchen to prepare meals.

Centerville Elementary School

Just down the road from Urbana High School along Fingerboard Road (Md. Route 80), grade school children first lined up for roll call at Centerville Elementary School in August.

The $11.6 million school was built to relieve the pressure from overcrowded Urbana Elementary School, which was at 144 percent capacity during the 2004-2005 school year.

Centerville Elementary opened close to capacity, and grew to 715 students in the following weeks.

Techincally, the school is over the 600-student capacity mark according to Steve Raff, vice principal. ‘‘It’s over ... but we have space for all the students. We have classrooms for every class,” he said.

With Centerville open, Urbana Elementary students and teachers have more breathing room with just more than 400 students enrolled. That school has a capacity of 663.

Raff is accustomed to opening a new school. He was a teacher at Oakdale Elementary School when it opened in 2002.

He said that the school enjoyed a successful first half of its inaugural year because of the dedication and teamwork of volunteers and staff.

‘‘It’s been those intangibles that define the rhythtm of a school,” he said. ‘‘Our staff and community as a whole have put in long hours of dedication to continue our academic progress,” he said.

However, not all of the school was ready for the students. Centerville Elementary opened without a functioning library and media center, kitchen or gymnasium.

Both the kitchen and library and media center opened several weeks after the school opened.

The gymnasium is funded and run with Frederick County Parks and Recreation Committee. A grand opening ceremony for the school’s gymnasium will be held on Jan. 4.

Urbana Middle School

Urbana Middle School is on track to open in August, according to Frederick County Public Schools officials.

In a recent meeting with area parents, Superintendent Linda Burgee said the school is slightly ahead of schedule and is expected to open with all amenities.

The school, on Pontius Road in Urbana, will hold 600 students in a more than 125,000-square-foot building at a cost of nearly $24 million. The school will be based on the design for Oakdale Middle School in Ijamsville and Crestwood Middle School in Frederick.

Burgee said the school is being built with expansion in mind to accommodate growth in Urbana.

When built, the three-story school will have an unfinished basement floor; the second floor will hold school offices; classrooms will be on the first and second stories.

The basement classrooms will be left undeveloped until the school is ready to expand for another 300 students.

Students attending Urbana and Centerville elementary schools will feed into Urbana Middle; Green Valley and Kemptown elementary students will graduate to Windsor Knolls Middle.

Frank Vetter, formerly principal of the Heather Ridge School in Frederick, will head the new school.

Urbana Commons shopping center

The Urbana Commons shopping center, owned by Baier Properties, is also a future retail site in the works.

Urbana Commons will feature four buildings along Md. Route 355 at Fingerboard Road.

The four-building shopping center will have 10,000 square feet for retail stores, two restaurants, and 3,500 square feet and a commercial center or bank on 4,050 square feet.

Site plans for the shopping center were submitted to county planners in July, and are still in the approval phase.

Stanford Properties commercial center

Stanford Properties of Bethesda invested in a shopping center in Urbana that could host the area’s next grocery store by 2008.

The 30,000-square-foot property adjacent the Cracked Claw restaurant and third phase of the re-routed Md. Route 355.

Andy Brown, a spokesman for Stanford Properties, said his company is negotiating with supermarket chains to bring a grocery store to the development.

Stanford Properties is waiting for final road designs before moving forward with site plans.

Brown said a pharmacy and restaurants would be ideal for the shopping center as well as other services ‘‘in short supply right now.”

Turning Point Center

The developers of the Turning Point Center, another retail and office center in Urbana, hope the old inn will provide the shopping center with historic personality.

When complete, the center will house more than 24,000 square feet of retail space on Fingerboard Road east of the Fannie Mae traffic circle.

Site plans submitted to county planners suggest the stores will lay next to each other like a strip mall with varying heights. The plans also hint at brick exteriors to blend in with the architecture of surrounding buildings like the Fannie Mae data center and Waffle House off Fingerboard Road.