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Before school board has its say on Mays Chapel site, members get an earful

Just 24 hours before the scheduled Board of Education vote on the proposed 700-seat Mays Chapel elementary school, the school board heard testimony from nearly 40 residents Monday night, March 19, at a meeting at Loch Raven High School that was attended by hundreds.

They brought signs, they brought emotions and they brought arguments against using what some residents describe as a park oasis in the Mays Chapel community — one they feel they're entitled to.

"As a senior citizen, I'm appalled that all of you sitting there would think about taking our park that we have, I feel, legitimately earned," said resident Jean Cuddington to the board. "We have worked, we have raised our children, we have paid our taxes.

"I don't know what more we have to do as senior citizens to gain some respect and have some time and a place for us to be able to go with our grandchildren," she said.

While many of those in attendance were against selection of the school site — which is supported by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Superintendent Joe Hairston — the opposition was already planning its move should the school be approved Tuesday.

Alan Zukerberg, an attorney for the Save Mays Chapel Park Committee and the Dunloy Townhome Condominium Association Inc., wouldn't directly comment whether a lawsuit was being planned, but said, "I believe my clients have major reasons to be concerned that there's been a lack of proper public process if the school board makes a determination to build a school at this park site."

"I don't believe that my clients will sit by idly without seeing what other remedies they may have," he said.

In an attempt to make an impact on the board's thinking before Tuesday's vote, both sides made their case Monday for and against the school, which would be built on less than half of the 20-acre parcel off West Padonia Road in Mays Chapel.

The property is owned by the county and has been earmarked for a school for more two decades, and is planned as a way to ease overcrowding concerns at eight area elementary schools — West Towson, Riderwood, Lutherville, Padonia, Pot Spring, Timonium, Warren and Pinewood.

Opponents said they recognize the need, but want the school to be built elsewhere.

Angela Ruddle said that taking away Mays Chapel Park, a place she described as a spiritual and emotional rejuvenation for residents, would be an "incredible disservice."

Several speakers, including engineer Leo Woerner, presented studies as to why the site could not work and why Dulaney Springs, the other proposed site that has since been declared unworkable, could.

Others pointed to environmental concerns and cost of gas as reasons not to build what they said will be a commuter school. Several residents said they wanted more time, and asked the board to wait on a decision.

Angelo Del Negro, co-chair of the Save Mays Chapel Park Committee, said the community was "totally confused" by the school board's haste in the matter.

Barbara Shelhoss called the meeting "window dressing," and David Suarez said the session was "a joke."

On the other side of the coin, several parents from the Towson area spoke in support of the school. After fighting for and winning relief to overcrowding issues at Hampton and Stoneleigh elementary schools, parents were clear in their support for an effort to further relieve school crowding.

Yara Cheikh, a Hampton parent, said her school's addition — with its reported cost of $19 million — does not represent the cheap alternative to a new school many Mays Chapel residents believe it does.

"I'd like to say this school is necessary," Cheikh said. "Mays Chapel sits within the connector of all the schools that need relief up the York Road corridor.

Chiekh's testimony drew yells from the opposing side, and school board President Lawrence Schmidt threatened to end the meeting if outbursts continued.

Later, Cathi Forbes, chairwoman of Towson Families United, likened the resistance — from the traffic concerns and fears over school boundary changes — to what the proposal of West Towson Elementary School several years ago.

"In spite of the opposition, West Towson was built and today, it stands as a beautiful building and a wonderful community school," she said.

"This isn't a toxic dump you're proposing. It's a school," she said. "A tsunami is a tragedy. A terrorist attack is a catastrophe. An elementary school is a blessing."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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