A proposed 700-seat elementary school in Mays Chapel is being billed as a long-term solution to the York Road corridor's overcrowding issues, but still faces opposition from the neighborhood that would house it.
"Basically, it's the only open space in a highly congested area," Angelo DelNegro, co-chair of the Save Mays Chapel Park Committee, said of the 20-acre space off West Padonia Road that's being considered for the school.
"The roads are not going to accommodate the buses, and you're going to take open space away from a community that needs it," he said. "There's just no place else to go. "
Third District Councilman Todd Huff, who represents Mays Chapel, also this week came out against using the park as a school site.
Huff said he was "caught by complete and total surprise" when he found out last month that the school was becoming more than an idea.
"I had been told all along by BCPS that it was not even on the books at this point, that there's been talk but nothing in the planning stage," Huff said. "I was told over and over again that there was nothing going on."
The councilman issued a statement that staked out his position against the school on Monday, Feb. 13.
"Now, without contacting me, and without reaching out to my constituents in the Mays Chapel community, we're told that it's a done deal and that Mays Chapel is the site," Huff said in the statement.
According to school officials, the location has been submitted to the Maryland State Department of Education for a site evaluation, one of many steps in the approval process to get a school built.
Additionally, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has said that the county would fully match any state funds for the school in the upcoming budget. If those plans fall into place, county school officials say the school could be built by 2014.
"I realize that a Baltimore County Councilman has no authority over the public school system and that my colleagues and I are expected to merely give the schools a half billion dollars per year for the programs, but I expect something in return," Huff said. "I expect that my constituents and I will at least be given the courtesy of having some input into decisions about school sites."
Huff cited "major traffic issues" as a reason for his opposition, as well as the removal of open space from the area.
Redrawing the lines?
Additionally, Huff said he fears backlash against the school boundary adjustments that would be inevitable should a new school be built.
"In order to fill Mays Chapel, they're going to have to redistrict elementary schools, and that's going to turn around and open another can of worms with constituents," Huff said.
For Mays Chapel residents, the battle to keep a school out of their park is a familiar one.
Before West Towson Elementary School was built and opened in 2010, the idea to use the Mays Chapel site for a new special needs school was met with staunch opposition from the community, and was ultimately scrapped because the state would not provide funding for the school.
"It's not so much that we were objecting to a special needs school going there, we were objecting the rationale for any school going there," said Eric Rockel, president of the Greater Timonium Community Council. "It just simply didn't seem to merit that any school should go up there at the expense of the community up there losing their open space."
"Now, I think it's recognized that there is a capacity problem in the York Road corridor, but not all of the schools face those very challenging capacity issues," Rockel said.
At a meeting on Feb. 9 at Ridge Ruxton school — which was essentially to address the annexation of West Towson Elementary School to that building — BCPS Planning Director Kara Calder said the new school in Mays Chapel would be used to ease overcrowding at West Towson, Riderwood, Lutherville, Padonia, Pot Spring, Timonium, Warren and Pinewood elementary schools.
Of the three other schools in the York Road corridor, a 300-seat addition at Hampton Elementary is under way, Stoneleigh Elementary School is awaiting funds for a 200-seat addition slated to resolve its overcrowding issues and Rodgers Forge Elementary School's overcrowding was addressed somewhat by the opening of West Towson.
Those other eight schools have a state-rated capacity of 3,477 seats combined, but have a 2011 enrollment of 4,107.
By 2014, when the proposed Mays Chapel-area school could potentially be completed, school system projections have the total for those eight schools rising to 4,370 students — or 893 students over capacity.
Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said that he would be "very supportive" of the Mays Chapel project if it comes to fruition.
"For my constituents in West Towson, it is the most immediate way to alleviate some of this overcrowding," he said.
Others, however, see the school as more of a solution to the Lutherville-Timonium schools, which haven't received the attention that Towson schools have recently.
"The (proposed Mays Chapel school) will help Towson schools slightly, but its more a solution for the overcrowding in Lutherville-Timonium," Mike Ertel, former president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said.
"I think it's the right thing to do, but again, I think what it's really about is those communities up there who are going to get a school to take care of their overcrowding before it overwhelms them," he said.