By Julie Baughman, The Baltimore Sun Media Group
4:20 PM EDT, June 4, 2013
Interest was so high in finding the space for 500 new elementary school seats in Catonsville that last week's meeting to discuss the topic had to be moved from Catonsville High School's cafeteria to its auditorium to accommodate the crowd.
More than 100 parents, teachers and students gathered in the Catonsville High School auditorium May 30 to meet with Baltimore County Public Schools representatives.
Parents lined up, more than 10 at a time, expressed concerns about the effectiveness of a short-term solution to overcrowding on the elementary school level and the ramifications of a possible long-term solution such as redistricting to ease current and projected overcrowding at several area schools.
A report from the county's Office of Strategic Planning, Department of Planning and Support Operations projects crowding to increase at several area schools.
Catonsville Elementary is expected to be more than 10 percent over capacity in 2013, Westowne more than 16 percent, Johnnycake Elementary nearly 20 percent, Westchester Elementary more than 20 percent and Hillcrest Elementary nearly 30 percent.
Pete Dixit, executive director of physical facilities for the school system, said the new seats would ideally be placed on a 15-20 acre site already owned by the county in order to expedite the process of adding the seats.
That process, from planning to opening, could take more than two and a half to more than four and a half years to complete, he said.
Many parents said that is too long.
Audrey White has one child at Catonsville High School, one at Catonsville Middle School and one at Westchester Elementary School and is aware of the overcrowding in Catonsville schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
She said area schools are already too overburdened to have to wait three more years for the new seats.
Catonsville High's 1,785 students exceed its state capacity of 1,729 while Catonsville Middle is at its 774 state capacity for students.
Westchester was more than 90 students over state capacity based on enrollment figures at the start of the school year
"The trailers are not safe," White said about the temporary additions on the schools' campuses. "Hillcrest (Elementary School) needs something now."
She fears the crowding that currently belabors the elementary schools will affect the higher grade levels.
"They're all going to come up," White said of the elementary students graduating to middle and high school. "It's all going to bubble."
Representatives from school system and GWOO Architects presented a summary from a May 8 meeting with the community and outlined the decision-making process for where the new seats would go.
"I think the meeting went really well," said Catonsville resident and Westchester parent Fred Bartlett Jr. "I appreciate the vision to expand and update our schools."
Bartlett has two children, one in third grade and one in fifth grade, at Westchester Elementary and is a professor in the school of applied information technologies at the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.
He said he is concerned about redistricting.
"I moved to Catonsville for the great schools and I don't want to be districted out," he said.
"I don't have the time to ship my kids three, four, five miles away to school. ... Walkability is important," he said. "We need those close school options with close-knit communities.
BCPS Chief Operations Officer Michael Sines said the meeting served its purpose.
"The whole purpose was to engage the community, get a barometer of what they are feeling, what their anxieties are, what their desires are," Sines said.
"They (parents) were very articulate in expressing their views."
School representatives will spend the summer evaluating options and announce plans in October or November.