Overcrowded schools in Catonsville

Enjoying their lunch during a noisy and crowded lunch period on Feb. 15 are Hillcrest Elementary School second -graders, from left, Corson Durst, Dino Casciani and Conlan Mah. With an enrollment nearly 200 students over what the school was designed to accommodate, lunch periods are extended across several hours at the school on Frederick Road. (Staff photo by Sarah Pastrana / February 18, 2013)

Smelly bathrooms. More than three hours of lunch periods in the cafeteria. Makeshift classrooms in the hallway.

That's life for students, teachers and staff at Hillcrest Elementary School.

The school at 1500 Frederick Road, which opened in 1968, is designed for 666 students.

As of Feb. 13, the school had 841 students currently enrolled.

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Unfortunately, Hillcrest is not the only area elementary school experiencing overcrowding. Westchester Elementary School and Catonsville Elementary School are both also well over capacity.

According to the Baltimore County Public Schools website, Westchester Elementary is 85 students over capacity with 584 students enrolled in the school designed to house 499.

Catonsville Elementary School is 31 students over capacity with 436 students enrolled in a school designed for 405, according to the school system website.

Cathy Allie, Baltimore County assistant superintendent for elementary schools in the zone that includes Catonsville, said there are long-term plans for "additional seats" in the area. That could mean a new school or additions to an existing school or simply more portable classrooms.

In the meantime, she is looking for both short and long-term solutions for Hillcrest, and the other Catonsville area elementary schools that are also overcrowded.

Combined, more than 1,800 students attend the three elementary schools in the Catonsville area that are operating at an overall 20 percent over capacity.

"Unfortunately, in the Catonsville area, we have a lot of overcrowding," Allie said.

Allie said she is looking for both short and long-term solutions for Hillcrest, and the other Catonsville area elementary schools that are also overcrowded.

Those solutions range from cutting programs to free up space to moving pre-K students to the Bloomsbury Community Center.

She noted that monitoring arrival and dismissal more closely to make sure students who should be riding a bus aren't being driven by their parents would also help the situation.

"If your kid is supposed to be riding a bus, they need to be riding the bus," Allie said.

"It does effect the whole efficiency or coming in and coming out," she added, referring to the extra number of vehicles on the already crowded parking lot.

Allie said the county has already provided four portable classrooms and an additional assistant principal to try and ease the difficulties at Hillcrest.

"We tend to continue to sort of monitor what would be the best thing to help that school out," Allie said.

Charles Herndon, a spokesman for Baltimore County Public Schools, said it's difficult to decide if adding a new school to an area is the best solution to overcrowding.

"Building a new school is obviously one of those, but we have to weigh that against the resources that are available out there and there have not been traditionally a lot of those out there," Herndon said.