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Building new Rodgers Forge Elementary among overcrowding solutions

Input meeting held to address Towson-area over-capacity conditions

By Jon Meoli, jmeoli@tribune.com

6:00 AM EDT, May 17, 2013

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The suggestion of building a new 700-seat elementary school to replace Rodgers Forge Elementary in Towson was made during a meeting held Thursday evening to address Towson's elementary school overcrowding problem.

The meeting held at Carver Center was billed as an input meeting, but Baltimore County Public Schools provided only one possible solution and very little in terms of criteria for solutions other than saying land acquisition would not work with its goal of solving the problem by 2015.

Much of the discussion at the two-hour long meeting, which was attended by around 100 people, centered on the Rodgers Forge option. Many of the parents in attendance applauded the fact that more seats in Rodgers Forge could bring students back to their neighborhood from West Towson Elementary, but others raised questions about the impact of a new school on the site's athletic fields and whether the net gain of seats would be enough.

Parents from four elementary schools were invited to the meeting—Rodgers Forge, West Towson, Hampton and Stoneleigh.

Parents from Ridge Ruxton, the dedicated special education school that shares a campus with West Towson, were also invited to the meeting.

A survey was distributed to parents asking for parents to comment on their priorities, the Rodgers Forge option, and any other suggestions they might have.

Parents were asked to rank, among other criteria, keeping communities together; removing portable classrooms; maximizing walkability when possible; and providing modern school buildings.

The survey also asked parents to choose between the Rodgers Forge option or their own write-in suggestions.

Parents suggested many options as alternative school sites, including the Bykota Senior Center, which was formerly Towson Elementary, as well continuing to use the old Carver Center building. The old Carver Center has housed Stoneleigh Elementary students this year as Stoneleigh's addition and renovation is completed.

Other unique suggestions included obtaining the old Towson Catholic building and using the Greenwood Campus on Charles Street, which houses county school administrators.

Many of the parents also indicated they wanted Ridge Ruxton, where West Towson Elementary uses two classrooms for fourth grade classes, to be left alone.

Larger overcrowding issue

The four Towson elementary schools focused on at the meeting are only a small part of the elementary schools overcrowding issue in the York Road corridor.

Twelve schools between Sparks and the city-county border have a state-rated collective capacity of 5,077 students, but according to BCPS data, the schools opened the 2012-2013 school year with 6,521 students, 1,444 students over capacity.

A school spokesman said last week that a separate meeting would be held for the northern cluster of elementary schools at a later date, though some parents from Lutherville Lab Elementary also attended the meeting Thursday.

The Towson parents were asked in the survey whether boundary changes for the new 700-seat elementary school in Mays Chapel should include the Towson schools, or whether the processes should be independent.

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz included funding in the coming year's capital budget for a 700-seat Mays Chapel elementary school, which will provide relief for the severely overcrowded schools in the Timonium area, as well 200 more seats at Sparks Elementary.

While the meeting was focused on Towson elementary schools, many parents also used the forum to bring attention to problems on the future overcrowding at the York Road corridor's middle and high schools.

"This bubble of kids is coming towards Towson High," Fisher said. "Why are we waiting to have overcrowding there like we had at all these elementary schools? Where are all these kids going to go to high school?"

Greg Paranzino, PTA President at Ridgely Middle, said he was put off that the other schools were excluded from the May 16 meeting.

"(The overcrowding issues) shouldn't be sequentially dealt with," Paranzino said.