As the students inside the newly renovated, sparkling classrooms at Stoneleigh Elementary worked on their lessons Tuesday morning, Principal Christine Warner and a host of elected officials thanked the parents and community who advocated so hard for the state-of-the-art addition and renovation.
"Each of your initiatives has provided a place for rigor, for relevance, for our ability to be responsive and to provide access for all of our boys and girls to do remarkable things," Warner said. "On behalf of the boys and girls at Stoneleigh Elementary School, on behalf of the teaching staff at Stoneleigh Elementary School, we thank you."
The construction project cost $18.7 million and was completed in 14 months. To expedite construction, Stoneleigh used the old Carver Center last year.
According to school officials, 14 classrooms were added onto the building, and the existing classrooms, gym and library were also renovated. The construction was carefully planned to match the historic exterior look of the school, which was built in 1930, while offering up-to-date infrastructure, including air conditioning, inside.
The process of securing an addition began with the Stoneleigh United group, which Colleen Mahoney, PTA president at Stoneleigh, called "the 12 visionary women who engaged the community." From there, the school community engaged local and state officials, and before long, the project was topping priority lists.
"I did my best to push for relief at these schools, but it was the parents who advocated hard and fast for these projects," Councilman David Marks said. "Towson values its schools, and you see it here and with the future renovation of Dumbarton Middle School."
Del. Steve Lafferty, of Towson, also attended the event, along with members of the Baltimore County Board of Education and school system staff. The ribbon-cutting ceremony featured performances by the school's steel drum band and choral group.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said it was the community's persistence that ensured the renovation project after county officials wavered between whether to invest the money in an aging school or fund a new schoolhouse.
"I think the clincher here was really the parents and the neighborhood, because what you said was, 'We love our neighborhood, and this school is a vital part of it,' " Kamenetz said during the ceremony. "This really made it easier for us to make the decision."
Going forward, Superintendent Dallas Dance said the partnership between the school, community and elected officials, as well as the fact that the history of the building was preserved, can be used as a model as the school system embarks on a systemic upgrade of its facilities.
"In some cases, it's easier to say, 'Let's go ahead and rebuild,' but in many cases, we want to preserve the history of our buildings, particularly in such small neighborhoods like we have in Stoneleigh," Dance said.
On Tuesday evening, the surrounding communities were invited for an open house, which gave families both young and old who didn't have students at the school a chance to check out the schoolhouse.
Residents whose children had long since graduated from Stoneleigh needed only to see the renovated main office off the foyer to know that much had changed at the community school, and neighbors walked the hallways nearly in awe of the improvements.
Juliet Fisher, one of the Stoneleigh United founders who was volunteering at Tuesday's event, couldn't identify one aspect of the improved schoolhouse she advocated for as a favorite. Instead, she lauded that every student would have the same experience at Stoneleigh, and "the fact that every child has a seat in a classroom, inside the building that's modern and air conditioned."
Before the renovation, several classes were held in outdoor trailers. Still, Stoneleigh has long been a destination for young families looking to ensure a quality education for their children. Christine and Matt Stangle moved to Stoneleigh before their daughter, Maddie, was born.
They brought Maddie, 3, to Stoneleigh to see her future school Tuesday, and Christine said they were "very impressed."
"It's more than we even imagined," she said. "It makes us so happy we moved here."