School officials used a meeting Wednesday night to elaborate on its plans for new elementary school seats in the Towson area and to stress that the ongoing process of addressing overcrowding will be more effective if the community works in partnership with the school system.
"This can't be an 'us and them' conversation," Verletta White, an assistant superintendent for elementary schools, said. "This needs to be a 'we' conversation, understanding that we want the same thing. We want our boys and girls to learn in a 21st-century learning environment."
More than 100 people attended the meeting Wednesday held at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology. This week's meeting was a follow-up to what was billed as an "input work session" held on May 16.
During that meeting, school officials discussed only one potential site to ease overcrowding — a new 700-seat school on the shared campus of Rodgers Forge Elementary and Dumbarton Middle schools that would replace the elementary. Officials also and solicited ideas from the community on other options.
On Wednesday, officials addressed 10 sites, whether feasible or unfeasible, that parents and community members suggested at the May meeting. For three of the sites — the old Carver Center, Rodgers Forge/Dumbarton land and Bykota Senior Center, built in the 1920s as Towson High School — officials presented working plans as an example of the evaluation process.
For the site where the old Carver Center sits, which was replaced by a state-of-the-art new school and which has been used this year as a temporary school for Stoneleigh Elementary while that school is expanded, two proposals were presented. However, neither plan provided the state-required amount of open space and athletic fields or the necessary amount of parking for a high school, said Kerry Hill, an architect at Grimm + Parker Architects, which designed the new Carver Center.
Of four proposals for the Bykota center, one plan was presented for the 5.84-acre site, calling for a new school to be built with parking across the street. But Hill said that plan creates traffic concerns during drop-off and pick-up hours on Central Avenue.
For the Rodgers Forge site, a plan to build a new school on fields at the existing school was presented.
For the remaining seven sites discussed, officials said feasibility studies would be conducted. These include Overlook Park, the Towson fire station, the now-closed Towson Catholic High School and undeveloped property at the Towson YMCA.
While BCPS has said it will address overcrowding throughout the county, most of the discussion at the Wednesday centered on how the 500 elementary school seats the county has committed to build inside the Beltway fit in with county schools' long-term plan to upgrade its entire cache of facilities in the next decade.
Terry Squyres, principal at GWWO Inc./Architects, the firm contracted to address BCPS' long-term infrastructure plan, said the 500 central-area seats would be fast-tracked before the rest of the county's problem.
Beyond adding those 500 seats, Squyres said a three-phase approach would be used to address overcrowding elsewhere.
The first phase, which took goals from the recently approved stragetic plan Blueprint 2.0, is completed. The second phase, which is the implementation plan, includes visits by GWWO staff to every school to evaluate "whether or not that school currently support the 21st-century education" of students, Squyres said. The third phase, which Squyres said includes input from stakeholders such as parents and teachers, would begin in early 2014.
Squyres said that the process is "moving very quickly," and school officials said nothing was off the table — including redistricting — when it comes to solving overcrowding problems.
Kara Calder, executive director of planning and support for BCPS, said Superintendent Dallas Dance recommended redistricting by area instead of by individual project.
Calder added that the school system would consider neighborhood integrity during the redistricting process.
During a question-and-answer session following Wednesday's meeting, most of the discussion, which stretched on for hours, centered on the issue of redistricting.
Parents from the Idlewylde area of Towson sought assurance that they would not be redistricted out of the Stoneleigh Elementary School district and into a district where there were schools they perceive as underperforming. But BCPS officials said it was "way too premature" to comment on the plan because in fact, no plan yet existed.
Officials said they would spend the summer examining sites for the new school in Towson, and the community would be presented with the results in November. In the interim, BCPS will post a "What's Happening?" page on its website to update the community on its progress while school is out.