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Mays Chapel Park wrong site for school

Faulty process led county school board to poor decision

By Paul Lang

4:08 PM EST, February 14, 2013

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On Feb. 5, the Baltimore County Board of Education approved a proposal to build a 700-seat elementary school on the current site of Mays Chapel Park in Timonium. This decision is the culmination of a long process in which the board, county executive and County Council went through the motions of a fair deliberative process, with input from the residents of the surrounding community. In fact, this was a charade designed to reach a preordained conclusion.

The issue of the proposed school was placed on the agenda of the regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting. The proposal before the board was a three-paragraph recommendation from the schools superintendent, who offered two reasons for his recommendation.

The first reason was that the board had previously approved the construction of the school. This reason is in direct contravention of the order of the State Board of Education on Dec. 17 that the county board was to make a new and independent determination. Instead, the county board merely "rubber stamped" a decision that had been overturned.

The second reason the superintendent gave was that, according to a "preliminary assessment," the Mays Chapel site was "more viable" than the Dulaney Springs site, which was also considered. It defies imagination that the county board is willing to authorize a $28 million project based upon a preliminary assessment of an alternate site, and that the board dismissed out of hand suggestions for less-expensive and preferable alternatives to ease overcrowding.

At the board meeting Feb. 5, board President Lawrence E. Schmidt gratuitously implied that those objecting to the school were more concerned with their own convenience than with the welfare of the students in overcrowded schools. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most of us are longtime or lifelong residents of Baltimore County whose children and grandchildren have attended and are attending county schools. Our objections to the school at Mays Chapel Park rise out of concerns for the welfare of the students as well as for our own quality of life.

Mr. Schmidt also stated that the residents of the surrounding community have no basis for complaining about the school. According to his reasoning, the Board of Education acquired its land long before our homes were built. Therefore, we knew or should have known that the park area was intended for the construction of a school. Again, this is a gross distortion. The most that we could have known was that the Board of Education owned 10 acres on the northeast portion of Mays Chapel Park. Ten acres is inadequate for a 700-seat school and its surrounding facilities. We could not have anticipated that the Board of Education, with the connivance of the county executive and the County Council, would exchange that land for a parcel owned by the county on the southwest portion of the park and would then proceed to occupy the entire park. This is to say nothing of the fact that the Board of Education failed to use the land for about 40 years.

We oppose construction of a school at Mays Chapel Park for many reasons. Perhaps most important is that the construction would eliminate the only open space in this portion of Baltimore County. In addition, the park is used extensively by the surrounding community of senior citizens, residents of nearby assisted living and nursing home facilities, and by numerous youth sports teams. Finally, the proposed school is far from the area where overcrowding exists. The resulting redistricting would be highly disruptive to students and their families.

The Board of Education's decision to build a 700-seat elementary school at Mays Chapel Park is wrong. Of equal importance, the process by which the decision was made was fundamentally flawed. This is not the way government should operate in a democracy.

The fight to preserve Mays Chapel Park is not over. We will take our case to the appropriate appointed and elected officials on the state level, and perhaps to the courts, in the hope that common sense and justice will prevail.

Paul Lang, a resident of the Mays Chapel North development, is part of the Mays Chapel Action Group fighting to preserve Mays Chapel Park. His email is pblang6779@aol.com.

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