The process of demolishing the old Carver Center building and replacing it with playing fields will begin later this summer, Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance said last week.
In an interview on Friday, May 31, Dance said a contract for demolishing the building will be presented to the school board in June. But on Tuesday, June 4, BCPS Chief Communications Officer Mychael Dickerson said the contract will be presented in July, not June.
The demolition of the old Carver building removes the possibility that it could be used as a swing space for future schools under construction.
For the last year, the old Carver facility, adjacent to the new state-of-the-art George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, has been used as a site for Stoneleigh Elementary students, while that school has been under reconstruction.
Parents and community leaders have lauded the creative use of space to allow for quick, cost-effective construction at Stoneleigh. With funds allocated for a $27.5 million renovation project at Dumbarton Middle School, many area parents wanted Carver to be used again to allow for that project to be finished without students around.
School officials have consistently said the Stoneleigh-to-Carver solution was unique, and that the land is in fact, allocated for playing fields, which are badly needed by local recreation councils and Carver itself, they said.
"There were some conversations around (using the old Carver building as a swing space for Dumbarton), but we are so far out in where we'd even be in the design phase of that. And (Carver) high school needs fields," Dance said.
Cathi Forbes, founder of the advocacy group Towson Families United, said that with the move, BCPS was "taking one of the short-term solutions off the table."
"Here's a building that was really useful in the Stoneleigh renovation," Forbes said. "It shortened the renovation from 26 months to 14 months so the kids at that overcrowded school were annexed for a year, but they didn't have to go through two years of school construction like the Hampton children have."
Hampton Elementary has been an active construction site since 2011. Yara Cheikh, president of the Hampton Elementary PTA, said the two years of construction while school was still in session at Hampton "increased stress on faculty, staff, and students."
"If we know Dumbarton is going to have a renovation … then we need to think creatively about where we can have those children learn under the least amount of stress and do the construction in a cost-effective way," Cheikh said. "We know that 14 months of construction is much cheaper than 26 months of construction."
"I think there's a fundamental problem between having to choose between school fields and maintaining a swing space, and that speaks to the priorities of the school system," Cheikh said. "These aren't the choices we should have to make. It's poor planning that got us to this spot."
Del. Steve Lafferty, who represents District 42 including Towson, said the fields are necessary to accommodate Carver's students and area recreation council programs, which he said are "growing by leaps and bounds."
"Based on everything I know to date, I'm supportive of the fields being constructed and the old building coming down," Lafferty said. "I understand the argument for future needs for future growth as the county executive (Kevin Kamenetz) and superintendent (Dance) plan for additional seats in Timonium and maybe Dumbarton, but the reality is, it's a couple years away."
Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District including Towson, said he has "mixed feelings" about the decision.
"Every high school deserves to have athletic fields, and the Towsontown Recreation Council has made a convincing case that they needed this open space," Marks said. "But at the same time, we will have a lot of new school construction in Towson over the next five years. I'll be interested in knowing where we can place students once the old Carver Center is demolished."
Forbes understands that the fields and school seats can't coexist, but feels badly for the students who might have to go to school at a construction site.
"Someone is (always) going to have to be giving up something, so the Carver kids will get their fields and if they decide to do a renovation at Dumbarton, it'll be a two-, two-and-a-half year renovation, and those kids will go to school at a construction site," Forbes said.
This story has been updated.