Mays Chapel Elementary site approved by school board for second time

Opponents of a new elementary school at Mays Chapel Park hoped that a second vote on the proposed school site might allow the Baltimore County Board of Education to reconsider its plan to build a 700-seat schoolhouse in their community.

But on Tuesday night, the board completed an exact replication of last spring's decision on the same topic, and voted to approve the 20-acre property owned by the school system and county in Mays Chapel as the site of a new elementary school.

"As a board member, I feel that my interests must lay primarily with the students of Baltimore County," Larry Schmidt, president of the school board and himself a Mays Chapel resident, said before the vote. "The overcrowding in the central core extends form Rodgers Forge and Stoneleigh to the south to Sparks to the north.

"There is no hidden agenda," Schmidt said. "We need another school in the central core of Baltimore County."

The school was first proposed in 2011 as a solution to overcrowding at eight elementary schools in central Baltimore County: Lutherville, Padonia, Pinewood, Pot Spring, Timonium, Riderwood, Warren, and West Towson.

But in November of last year, the state board of education found in favor of the Save Mays Chapel Park Committee, which challenged the county board's first vote on the issue on the grounds that the public hearing was held without proper notice.

As a result, the school planning process restarted in December. A second public hearing was held on Jan. 14 at Loch Raven High, with the same speakers who opposed the school last spring repeating their testimonies before the school board.

On Jan. 22, the County Council voted to approve a land swap between the school system and the county government, as school officials said the county-owned land in the southwest portion of the park is best fit for a schoolhouse and will allow much of the open space at the park to remain.

School officials said the schoolhouse and associated property will use less than 50-percent of the available 20 acres.

Six speakers, all of whom spoke at the Jan. 14 hearing, made a final plea to the school board Tuesday.

Penny Noval, an opponent of the school, said the community has been "trying to communicate and collaborate" with the school board for over a year, but "all of our efforts have at this point been dismissed and ignored."

After the school site was approved for the first time, the school board selected to use the same design as Vincent Farms Elementary School in White Marsh, which saved five months of engineering and site planning and would allow the school to be completed in May 2014.

Though the process was halted by the state board's decision, BCPS spokesman Charles Herndon said that timeline still held true and no delays in construction were anticipated.

But that's not to say the process of beginning the school will be smooth after this second approval.

"I think it's disgraceful for anyone to have the hubris and arrogance to force this school down our throats," William Vitale, an 85-year-old opponent of the school, said during the public comment portion of the meeting that preceded the vote. "That's just about the way we feel about it, and if the board votes in favor of the project, I can assure you that's not going to be the end of it. ... We're not going to let it go."

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