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BWI Business Partnership opens Year Two of County Connector Shuttle

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The BWI Business Partnership has launched the second year of service of the County Connector Shuttle.

The County Connector is a free shuttle service made possible with the support of the Local Development Council, Anne Arundel County and the communities and businesses surrounding the Live! Casino & Hotel. It is designed to connect residents, workforce and job seekers to BWI Marshall Airport and the BWI Light Rail Station, Live! Casino & Hotel and Arundel Mills, Arundel Preserve and the BWI MARC/Amtrak stations to effectively access employment.

“When we started the project in July 2018, we had 5,418 passengers, or an average of 175 riders a day,” said the partnership Executive Director Gina Stewart. “In its final month, the total passenger [count] was close to 9,000, averaging 294 passengers daily.”

Partnership Director of Community Development Peach Dolar shared that the pilot year of the program allowed the Partnership to identify opportunities for improvement, and went on to outline the changes being implemented in fiscal 2020. “We have revised the schedule to be more time efficient, increasing frequency to its major transit stops, and always with a view to as much connectivity to the other transit services, such as RTA’s 501 service to Columbia, the MARC train, Amtrak and the light rail service,” she said.

The County Connector boasts a new appearance, too: It’s wrapped to better promote the service offered to the public and the stops that it makes. The branding also directs inquiries to a 24/7 call center that is dedicated to answering questions, documenting and relaying feedback, as well as assisting riders who have questions about the schedule or may be unable to locate the schedule online or on the free shuttle-tracking app.

Hogan, Ball break ground on Waterloo Fire Station

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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball was recently joined by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to break ground on the Waterloo Fire Station. The agreement reached between Ball and Hogan culminated after nearly six years of negotiations and will allow construction to begin. The state only charged Howard County $1 for the land, so $3.5 million in cost savings could be used to fund flood mitigation projects in Ellicott City.

The almost 6-acre site, next to 7777 Washington Boulevard, Jessup, will be the site of the new fire station, which is needed to support the growth of residential housing in the area and heighten emergency response time. The station will be strategically located to improve response times to all emergencies in the areas of Waterloo, Jessup, East Columbia and surrounding communities. The station will accommodate both emergency medical service units and fire suppression apparatus.

More on the flood mitigation work being conducted in Ellicott City can be found at www.ecsafeandsound.org/flood-mitigation-options

Cognate BioServices secures funds from EW Healthcare

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Cognate BioServices, a contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) in the global cellular therapies industry, of Hanover, has secured a financial sponsor to support its short- and long-term growth as it closed on a round of growth capital from EW Healthcare Partners.

Cognate has commercial scale manufacturing capacity in Memphis, Tenn., to support products for both the European Union and in the U.S, and is continuing to expand its footprint to meet the needs of its clients and the market. The transaction includes significant growth capital to support Cognate’s commercial expansion that started in 2015.

The capital raise and partnership with EW will further support Cognate’s commercial manufacturing infrastructure and scale up activities for its clients and prospects. This partnership with EW further secures the company’s future as a leading CDMO in the commercialization of advanced cellular therapies such as car-T, NK cell, TIL, MIL and other cellular immunotherapy products.

“With EW as a new partner, in combination with our existing shareholders, we can remain focused on aggressive growth to meet the needs of the growing commercial markets in cellular therapies,” said Kelly Ganjei, CEO of Cognate BioServices. “We have a number of exciting service offerings and capabilities that we expect to be able to provide in the near future that will directly translate to the benefit of our clients and their patients.”

HCPSS scores stay consistent

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Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) students’ performance in English language arts and mathematics achievement continue to follow trends observed in recent years, as reflected in 2019 Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP) scores released by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).

In general, HCPSS 2019 scores for students overall showed improvements for English language arts (ELA) and slight declines for mathematics compared to 2018 scores, mirroring trends seen across the state. HCPSS scores were among the five top ranking Maryland school districts in all measures, and ranked the highest among the five neighboring districts in every measure except Grade 7 mathematics.

HCPSS overall ELA results for all grade 3-8 were among the highest compared to other state districts, with 58.4 percent of students scoring at levels 4-5, up 2.1 percentage points from the previous year. For Grade 10 ELA, 65.7 percent of students scored at levels 4-5, an increase of 4.8 percentage points from 2018, and again among the highest performing state districts.

The 2019 ELA results for the elementary grades show 55.6 percent of students performing at levels 4-5 in Grade 3, 56.6 percent in Grade 4, and 59.1 percent in Grade 5, comparing favorably to 41.2 percent, 43.6 percent and 43.9 percent, respectively, for Maryland overall.

Middle school ELA results revealed similar trends, with 56.5 percent at levels 4-5 in Grade 6, 61.0 percent in Grade 7, and 61.4 percent in Grade 8. The comparable state results for these grades were 41.1 percent , 47.3 percent , and 45.1 percent .

Elementary mathematics scores showed 57.4 percent of students at levels 4-5 in Grade 3, 56.0 percent in Grade 4, and 54.1 percent in Grade 5, compared to 42.5 percent , 39.4 percent , and 36.7 percent for these grades across Maryland.

HCPSS middle school mathematics scores were 47.1 percent , 32.3 percent , and 18.3 percent in grades 6, 7 and 8 respectively, all comparing favorably to scores reported statewide. However, meaningful comparisons for middle school math scores cannot be made at the state level, because a large proportion of students begin advanced level mathematics in these grades, and course sequence practices vary widely among school systems.

At the high school level, HCPSS students significantly outperformed their statewide peers. For Algebra I, 55.8 percent of Howard County students scored at levels 4-5, more than twice the state average of 27.2 percent . For the English 10 assessment, 65.7 percent achieved levels 4-5 at HCPSS, compared to 42.6 percent for the state.

The assessments use a five-point score scale, with students performing at levels 4 and 5 considered “proficient” and on track to graduate high school prepared to succeed in college and careers. The Maryland Comprehensive Assessment Program (MCAP) ELA and Math Results report presented to the state board can be viewed at https://reportcard.msde.maryland.gov.

Howard Health Department get national accreditation

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The Howard County Health Department (HCHD) has achieved national accreditation through the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB). The national accreditation program works to promote and protect the health of the public by advancing continuous quality improvement and performance of all public health departments.

The attainment of accredited status comes after a rigorous, multi-faceted, peer-reviewed assessment process, which ensured the HCHD met or exceeded criteria established for a set of evidence-based quality standards and measures for public health.

During this three-year process, the HCHD submitted documentation examples that demonstrated conformity with 100 performance measures across 12 domains of public health practice. Included among these were the Community Health Assessment Process, Community Health Improvement Plan and the Department’s Strategic Planning Process and Performance Management System, as well as several Local Health Improvement Coalition activities, all of which were closely linked to partnerships with key stakeholders throughout the county and state.

Howard County now joins the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) and local health departments from seven Maryland counties (Allegany, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Wicomico and Worcester) who have PHAB accreditation. To maintain the awarded status, health departments must be reaccredited every five years.

School superintendent presents boundary plan

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Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano presented his recommendations to balance school capacity utilization, provide relief to schools most impacted by crowding, and address inequities in the distribution of students affected by poverty, during a recent Howard County Board of Education meeting.

The board initiated by unanimous vote on Jan. 24, a system-wide boundary review process, prompted by significant imbalances in school capacity utilization. Currently, 32 schools (43 percent ) are outside of the target capacity utilization defined in HCPSS Policy 6010, meaning that enrollment at these schools is either below 90 percent or over 110 percent of their capacity, while the distribution of students participating in the Free and Reduced-price Meals program (FARMs) ranges from below 5 percent at some schools to up to 68 percent at others.

“This recommendation marks a turning point in how we look at attendance area adjustments. While previous boundary review processes focused more narrowly on capacity utilization, my proposal is in alignment with our Strategic Call to Action, leading with equity as our driver to provide all students with full access and opportunity to receive the best educational services and supports,” Martirano said.

The Superintendent’s proposal, which relates to school boundaries for the 2020-21 school year (SY 20-21), moves beyond the recommendations presented in the 2019 Feasibility Study, and takes into account the priorities expressed by his Attendance Area Committee (AAC), the 800 participants in four community input sessions, and 2,176 surveys and 276 alternative scenarios submitted by community members and other stakeholders.

Also considered during planning were transportation times and costs, the effective use of existing school resources, and other Policy 6010 standards. These priorities also included keeping school boundaries contiguous while maintaining neighborhood schools and walkable distances for as many students as possible.

The Superintendent’s proposal would provide for reassignment of approximately 7,396 students, including 3,194 elementary, 1,351 middle, and 2,851 high school students. Through the proposal, 53 schools are projected to be within the 90-110 percent target capacity utilization defined in policy, compared with 42 without boundary adjustments, and many of the most highly-impacted schools would see significant relief.

The proposal also advances socio-economic equity by addressing the proportion among schools of students receiving FARM program services. Through the Superintendent’s proposal, all elementary schools would have a FARM rate at or below 54 percent , and the number of elementary schools above 50 percent would be reduced by half, from 12 to 6. The 10 elementary schools with highest FARM rates would be reduced by a combined 82 percent , and 21 schools would move closer to the county average.

More information, including the Superintendent’s presentation and full report given to the Board of Education and a one-page document that details the proposal are available on the HCPSS website.

The board will hold three public hearings and seven work sessions, and is scheduled to make a final decision on any boundary line adjustments with action on Thursday, Nov. 21. A full schedule and complete information about the boundary review process is provided at www.hcpss.org/school-planning/boundary-review.

HCPSS, Gilchrist partner for support services

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The Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) has partnered with Gilchrist to provide grief and loss training for staff and to offer support for school communities affected by a crisis.

Under the agreement, Gilchrist representatives will collaborate with HCPSS School Psychology and Instructional Intervention staff to conduct self-care workshops for HCPSS crisis team members. Gilchrist will offer training for staff in conducting grief support groups within schools and will offer self-care services to HCPSS staff responding to crises.

Gilchrist will also participate in panel discussions during professional development days, and will serve as a resource for students and parents in need of crisis services during times when school is not in session; HCPSS will conduct trainings for Gilchrist staff on responding to crises in school communities.

Port sets new record for cargo

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More than 11 million tons of cargo passed through the state-owned public marine terminals of the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore in the past fiscal year, setting a new record as the Port expands its regional economic impact. The second quarter of 2019, from April to June, also proved to be record setting, with the Port handling 2,873,392 tons of cargo over those three months. That amount beat the previous quarterly high mark of 2,790,745 tons, set during the second quarter of 2018.

“The Port of Baltimore continues to demonstrate why it is one of Maryland’s leading economic engines,” said Governor Larry Hogan. “These records are directly attributed to the thousands of hardworking men and women who support this incredible state asset each and every day.”

Among the nation’s ports, the Port of Baltimore ranks first for autos and light trucks, roll on/roll off heavy farm and construction machinery, imported sugar and imported gypsum. It ranks 11th among major U.S. ports for cargo handled and ninth nationally for total cargo value.

The 11,001,234 tons handled last fiscal year surpassed the previous mark of 10,969,308 tons set in FY2018. The latest records follow new monthly benchmarks set in March for general cargo (1,018,274 tons), the most 20-foot containers handled (95,862), and most cars and light trucks handled in a month (59,052).

The second quarter of 2019 was aided in part by the May visit of the largest ship ever to come to the Port, the Evergreen Titan, with a capacity of 14,424 Twenty-foot Equivalent (TEU) containers. The Port of Baltimore is one of the few U.S. East Coast ports with the necessary water depth and infrastructure to accommodate the world’s largest container ships. A second deep berth is being planned by Ports America Chesapeake, which operates the Port’s Seagirt Marine Terminal, and will allow the Port to handle two supersized ships simultaneously. Construction on this new 50-foot deep berth will begin later this year and is expected to be operational in 2021.

Recently, it was announced that Maryland will receive $125 million in federal grant funding toward the reconstruction of the 125-year-old Howard Street Tunnel. This project will accommodate double-stacked container trains to and from the Port of Baltimore, a capacity improvement that’s expected to grow the Port’s container business by about 100,000 containers annually. The project also will generate 6,800 tunnel construction jobs and another 7,400 jobs as a result of the Port’s increased  business.

In 2018, a record 43 million tons of international cargo was handled by the combined state-owned public and privately-owned marine terminals at The Port. The value of that cargo was also a benchmark: $59.7 billion. Last year the state-owned public terminals handled a record 10.9 million tons of general cargo and more than a million TEU containers. The Port also handled a record 850,147 cars and light trucks in 2018, the most in the U.S. for the eighth consecutive year.

The Port of Baltimore generates about 15,330 direct jobs, with more than 139,180 jobs overall linked to Port activities. The average salary for people with direct jobs at the Port is 9.5 percent higher than the average annual wage in Maryland. The Port is responsible for nearly $3.3 billion in personal wages and salaries, $2.6 billion in business revenues and $395 million in state and local tax revenues.

No injuries after natural gas explosion in Columbia

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A natural gas leak and explosion occurred just before 8 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 25, at the Lakeside Office Building and shopping center, in the 8800 block of Stanford Boulevard, in Columbia, shaking homes and structures up to several miles away. Earlier Sunday morning, Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue personnel responded to reports of a gas leak in the parking lot at the address and made sure the area was evacuated prior to the explosion.

Photo by Scott Ewart

No injuries to civilians or first responders have been reported. Social Security offices, the Krav Maga Maryland-Columbia, Riverside Coffee, Cisco Systems, Pub Dog Pizza and Mango Grove are among the businesses affected.

At a press conference held late Monday morning, Howard County Deputy Fire Chief John Jerome said that, “Throughout the day yesterday, fire crews worked with other agencies to safely control access to the area, prevent injuries and to assess the buildings’ structural integrity in coordination with other agencies. Today we will continue with those efforts and hope to coordinate with building occupants so that they can recover some of their key assets,” adding that the investigation is ongoing.

“I am so grateful that no one was hurt as a result of this incident and I want to personally thank our Police and Fire and Rescue personnel for their speed and bravery in making sure the area was clear of people prior to the explosion,” said County Executive Calvin Ball. “I also want to thank BGE, [the Howard County Economic Development Authority], and everyone who is partnering with us to move forward. As a community, we are going to be doing everything we can to help the impacted businesses and respond to this damage with our collective resolve.”

Arundel’s Pittman makes pitch for county to lead on forest conservation

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Approximately 150 people attended a recent town hall to discuss Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman’s plan to strengthen the county’s forest conservation law. At the event, held at South River High School, in Edgewater, Pittman explained the need for new legislation and gave a presentation highlighting key provisions of draft legislation he intends to introduce to the County Council.

“Forests are tremendously important to our county,” said Pittman. “Trees reduce air pollution, soak up stormwater runoff, provide wildlife habitat and help fight climate change. For decades, we’ve made it too easy to cut down our forests. That’s why I plan to introduce legislation at the next County Council meeting to strengthen our forest conservation law and better protect our remaining forest lands.”

Matt Johnston, the county’s environmental policy director, showed data from the federal Chesapeake Bay Program demonstrating that Anne Arundel County had lost 2,775 acres of forest since 2010 the most of any county in Maryland.

“We’ve lost more forest than all of our neighboring counties combined,” said Johnston. “In fact, Anne Arundel County accounts for 40 percent of all the forest lost in Maryland counties in this decade. We continue to lose about 300 acres of forest a year to development. We have to do better. Our future depends on it.”

Under current law, on a 100-acre parcel, up to 68 acres of forest can be cleared with no requirement to replant trees. When developers clear more, they also have an option to pay a “fee-in-lieu” instead of replanting. Anne Arundel County’s fee-in-lieu is $0.40 per square foot, among the lowest in the state.

Pittman’s draft legislation has five key components. The bill:

● Increases the “conservation thresholds” that determine how much of a site developers may clear without having to replant or pay a fee;

● Adds protections for the largest and most ecologically important forests;

● Increases the fee-in-lieu amount from $0.40 to $2.50 per square foot;

● Increases tree replanting requirements; and

● Brings county code into compliance with the most recent state forest conservation code.

“This bill will transform our county from the ‘Clear-Cutting Capital of Maryland’ to a leader in forest conservation,” said Pittman. “We believe we’ve found the formula that will become a model for other counties and potentially for future state legislation.”

Pittman noted that his staff has been working on this legislation for months and that they have briefed all seven councilmembers on the draft bill. Pittman intends to introduce the legislation at the next County Council meeting, on Sept. 3. This would likely result in a public hearing for the bill on Oct. 7.

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