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Debate over Mays Chapel school site places residents on opposing sides

March 19 public meeting serves as prelude to school board vote

By Jon Meoli, jmeoli@tribune.com

4:26 PM EDT, March 13, 2012

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On any given afternoon, Mays Chapel residents walk the path that winds between the trees surrounding Mays Chapel Park.

"We love the park," said Karen Licharowicz, of Mays Chapel, after her walk in the park March 8. "We use it every day."

It's that privilege — as well as their concerns about traffic, property values and the unwanted intrusion in their neighborhood — that is fueling the area's fight against a proposed elementary school to be built on the county- and school-system-owned land that doubles as open space in Mays Chapel.

When Darlene Castle moved into the area, she didn't know the land was earmarked to become a school.

"It's really sad that this environment is going to be totally gone," said Castle, who was also enjoying the park March 8. "Putting the school here is just going to be a travesty."

Residents who oppose the proposed 700-seat elementary school are expected in force on Monday, March 19, when the Baltimore County Board of Education will hold a public meeting to gather input on the proposed school.

School officials say a board decision on the property will be considered the next day, March 20.

At the hearing, those Mays Chapel residents will likely face some of their neighbors to the south — Towson-area residents who want the school built.

Cathi Forbes, chairwoman of Towson Families United, said the meeting's timing — it begins at 6 p.m. at Loch Raven High School — makes it difficult for those with families to attend.

But her group wants supporters of the school in attendance as well.

Forbes said the Mays Chapel school is more of a "northern solution" than one for Towson, but believes the school is necessary for all the affected schools, in order to help level out student population.

"It's frustrating, because I understand that change is hard ... but they don't own the land," Forbes said. "If the school system can't build a school on land they own, what are they supposed to do?"

Forbes was one of 10 speakers who spoke at the board's meeting on March 6, when more than 100 Mays Chapel residents showed up to oppose the school at Mays Chapel Park.

At that meeting the board granted only "preliminary approval" for the school — and postponed a final vote until after a public meeting could be held.

The March 19 hearing date was set the next day.

Forbes said schools and neighborhoods coexist throughout Baltimore County, and there's no reason they can't do the same in Mays Chapel.

But at the March 6 meeting, she drew yells of disapproval from the Mays Chapel crowd when she suggested residents were standing in opposition to the education of Baltimore County's children.

Marvin Tenberg, vice president of the Falls Road Community Association, said the organization believes it's "the wrong school in the wrong place."

"We believe schools should be located to serve families in and around their community, not where they will require busing or, very often, families driving them to school," Tenberg said.

Residents lamented the potential loss of the area's only open space, and spoke of the traffic congestion in the area, which they believe will only be made worse by a school.

Officials say the school is needed to alleviate overcrowding in eight elementary schools in the York Road corridor — Padonia, Pot Spring, Lutherville, Pinewood, Warren, Timonium, Riderwood and West Towson.

School system projections suggest that by 2014, when the a new school could potentially be completed, eight schools in the York Road corridor would have a combined students population of 4,370 students — or 893 students over state-rated capacity.

Third District County Councilman Todd Huff has sided with his Mays Chapel constituents in opposing the school location.

But Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond, who represents the 2nd District, and 5th District Councilman David Marks sent a letter to Board of Education President Lawrence Schmidt last week expressing support for the school.

"We know the neighbors at Mays Chapel have sincere intentions, and we respect their passion for their community," said the letter from Marks and Almond. "At the same time, we believe it is in the best interest of school children throughout north central Baltimore County for an elementary school to be built as quickly and efficiently as possible."

The Board of Education will hold a public hearing on construction of a new elementary school on the Mays Chapel site on Monday, March 19, 6 p.m., at Loch Raven High School, 1212 Cowpens Ave, Towson. Sign-up for those wishing to speak begins at 5 p.m. Each speaker will be allotted three minutes. The board is expected to consider the matter at its Tuesday, March 20, meeting.