Baltimore County Council approves funding for design of new Lansdowne Elementary

Baltimore County Council approves funding for design of new Lansdowne Elementary School

Funding will be allocated in Baltimore County's 2014-2015 Capital Budget for design plans to build a new Lansdowne Elementary School, after the County Council approved a bill at its Tuesday legislative session. 

Because the design plans are the precursor to constructing a school, 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Arbutus, Lansdowne and Catonsville, said the funding of $2.5 million is a good sign that the project is moving forward.

"I've been really trying to fast track the new Lansdowne Elementary School," Quirk said on plans to replace the building at 2301 Alma Road . "It's definitely been something that is a priority of mine."

An announcement was made by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz last April that the southwest Baltimore County school would be replaced with a new 700-seat school as part of a county plan to address overcrowded schools with aging infrastructure.

According to the Baltimore County Public Schools website, the school has 491 students enrolled, putting it well over its state-rated capacity of 313.

The new school was part of the solution to reduce overcrowding in several elementary schools in the southwest area. That solution includes 700-seat replacement schools for Relay and Westowne elementary schools, a new 700-seat Catonsville Elementary on the site of the Bloomsbury Community Center and a 250-seat addition at Westchester Elementary School, Kamenetz said.

"One of the biggest complaints parents have is the infrastructure," said Deborah McVicker, whose son attends third grade at the school. "Some of the stuff is outdated, so the concept of having a new building is a big win for us."

The building was constructed in 1965, and like many public school buildings is in need of updating. In a physical facilities report released in December, the school received a score of 2.44 out of 5, because of its lack of air conditioning, poor interior finishes and the wear and tear of overcrowding on the building.

"I'm 40 years old and I went to that school," said Deborah's husband, Eric McVicker, "I used the facilities there."

The school has seven relocatable classrooms, known by parents and other members of the community as trailers, to accommodate the growing enrollment at the school, according to the BCPS website.

"What concerns me about the trailers is having the kids walk back and forth in the cold weather to the school for bathroom breaks, lunch, gym classes and art classes," Eric McVicker said.

Enrollment at the school is projected to grow from 491 students to 594 by 2023, according to 2014 BCPS enrollment projections.

Other area schools including Arbutus, Baltimore Highlands, Halethorpe and Riverview elementary schools, are also over their state-rated capacity, according to BCPS website information.

According to a BCPS PowerPoint presentation from December, the county will request funding for the project in Fiscal Year 2017. A public hearing will be held on the FY 2017 capital request May 20.

Although the McVicker's son won't benefit from the construction of a new school, his parents want to see others in the community benefit from the new building.

"It's really hot in that building during the summer," Eric McVicker said. "With air conditioning, it will be more comfortable."

Deborah McVicker said the school has a lot going for it, including a dedicated staff of teachers who care about their students. It was also one of 10 schools in the county selected to pilot the county's digital conversion last year.

There was some confusion in the community about whether the county planned to move forward with the construction, said Deborah McVicker, who also serves as president of the school's Parent and Teacher Association.

"There was limited communication [from the county] with the school," she said.

"Last year, we were told that we were getting a new school, " said Sara Allen, parent of two children at the school, who serves as secretary of the school's PTA. "But the principal hadn't received any information about what the construction would look like."

"Come this year, we were told that it was scratched and [the county] wasn't pursuing us getting a new school," Allen said.

Allen said parents at the Title 1 school, which means it has a high percentage of children from low-income families, felt they were left behind.

"I think it would be a fresh start — hopefully something that the community can take pride in... and something that provides an incentive for students to want to do better in school," Allen said.

Lansdowne Elementary principal Stephen Price said he attended a couple of meetings held to discuss solutions to overcrowding in the area.

"We'll just keep the school running until shovels are in the ground," said Price, who said the county has to balance the needs of the school with others facing similar issues in the county.

We don't want to celebrate too early, Price said.

"Ultimately, it will be the school board's decision to make," he said. "And I'm happy that we're on their radar."

Still, Deborah McVicker said she is excited about the possibility of a replacement school.

"We can still see the value of what it's going to bring to the community," McVicker said.

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