Baltimore County's seat typically buzzes during lunch hour, when employees of Towson's business community and the county government pour into the streets to grab a meal at one of an array of restaurants and eateries downtown.
But on Friday morning, the area was even more charged as 75 Baltimore County Public School employees settled into their new home in the Jefferson Building on West Chesapeake Avenue.
"We are so thrilled you're here," Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, told the group Friday morning. "I know it's a little unusual to be displaced, but I think you're going to see this is a very welcoming town."
To that end, Hafford delivered 75 gift bags full of items donated by Towson businesses, including $100 worth of gift certificates and coupons from dozens of businesses and restaurants, plus fresh-baked cookies from La Cakerie.
"We'd just like to share this as a token of welcome," James Jones, the Towson chamber president, said. "We're so happy to have you."
The BCPS employees, part of the Division of Curriculum and Instruction, are being moved to downtown Towson from Greenwood Campus in Towson, Pulaski Park in Middle River and an office in Timonium as part of a cost-saving consolidation announced last August by Baltimore County and BCPS, who said the move could save the county $1.5 million in operating expenses. The 300 employees are being moved in at intervals, and the migration will be complete when the last group of 35 move in May.
"The move is a wonderful partnership with our government partners, but more importantly, the advantage in moving is we now have all the offices that sit under the Division of Curriculum and Instruction in one building," Pat Lawton, chief academic officer for BCPS, said.
"It makes it much more time-efficient, much more work-efficient and a much more collaborative spirit," Lawton said.
Lawton said some of the BCPS employees, who had previously worked at the other offices for well over a decade, were shocked by the announcement about the consolidation. But, he said, as they prepared for the move, more became comfortable with the idea.
Although some of the employees were still disoriented with their new digs, Lawton said the inviting gesture of Friday's ceremony meant a lot to the newly migrated staff.
"It makes you feel like you're part of a group, it makes you feel like you're welcome," Lawton said. "I don't think we're feeling any sense of displacement. When you have the Towson community come in and say, Welcome, you are part of us,' I don't think there's any better feeling than to know you're part of a bigger picture."
Three county departments vacated the space to make room for the school system employees, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said. The Department of Recreation and Parks moved to the County Home Park office building in Cockeysville; the Economic/Workforce Development Department moved into the Historic Courthouse; and the Department of Environmental Protection & Sustainability moved into the County Office Building next door to the Jefferson Building, Kobler said.
When the office consolidation was announced in August 2012, the county said its overall workforce had been reduced by over 500 employees since 2010, creating space for all of the remaining employees to be consolidated under one roof.
BCPS employees will work on the third floor, fourth floor, and basement at the Jefferson Building. The basement was formerly a parking structure, but is being renovated into office space.
School spokesman Charles Herndon said the contingent of BCPS employees are moving into the Jefferson building through the beginning of May, and in stages. Forty more will move in on March 28; 80 are moving in on April 12; and 70 employees move in April 26. The remaining 35 employees are slated to move downtown on May 3, Herndon said.