Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz proposed a new 700-seat elementary school near the center of Towson on Friday to relieve overcrowding, telling the school superintendent that he won't fund the school system's plans to renovate two other schools.
In a letter to Baltimore County school Superintendent Dallas Dance, the county executive said he is withdrawing support for renovations to the former Loch Raven Elementary and Cromwell Valley Elementary because they are too costly.
Instead, he is proposing to tear down the Bykota Senior Center near Bosley Avenue and Joppa Road in Towson. The center was formerly Towson Elementary School and has a playground and park beside it. Kamenetz said he would build a new senior center elsewhere near downtown Towson.
Under Dance's original plan, Halstead Academy would have closed and those students would have been relocated into the renovated Loch Raven Elementary, a proposal that was criticized. The overall plan, which was tied to renovating and adding seats to Cromwell Valley, would have cost about $52 million, about $22 million more than building the new school.
Kamenetz also pulled his support from the renovations to Dumbarton Middle School near Towson that would have included cutting down century-old trees and building a larger parking lot. He said he would continue to pay for the proposed renovations to the interior and for air conditioning.
The changes were popular with residents who had objected to Dance's plan, but the county executive has rarely intervened so directly in school system business.
Dance declined to be interviewed but issued a statement saying that he would consider the county executive's proposal.
"I value the suggestions received today from the county executive regarding BCPS physical facilities plans for selected central area schools," Dance said in the statement. "His latest suggestions, along with student needs, input from the Halstead, Dumbarton and Loch Raven school communities and staff expertise, will all factor into the continued evolution of plans to address school capacity and modernization."
School board President David Uhlfelder said the board plans to discuss the issue at its next meeting in August.
The county executive had originally given his support to a $19 million proposal to renovate the historic Loch Raven school that is being used as a community center, as well as a $5 million addition to Cromwell Valley. But the cost of the Loch Raven renovation rose to $29 million because of changes to the historic building, and the estimates for Cromwell Valley rose to $19 million. By closing Halstead and renovating the two other elementaries, the county would have gained about 400 seats.
In addition, Kamenetz had promised to build a $3 million to $4 million community center for Loch Raven.
A new school at Bykota, which had long been rejected because it was deemed too expensive, is estimated to cost about $30 million.
The Dance proposal was not popular among some Loch Raven community members who didn't want the increase in traffic, the loss of their community center and the busing of students from two miles away into their community.
"I greatly appreciate Mr. Kamenetz's emphasis on the importance of Loch Raven retaining its community center and look forward to his continued support to maintain the historic building and its valuable program," said Jason Garber, president of the community association.
But Dan McGrain, a resident of Glendale just southeast of Towson, said he was deeply disappointed.
"For the past five years, the county has poured money into West and Central Towson, including a brand-new school at West Towson Elementary and nearly $40 million in renovations to Stoneleigh and Hampton elementary schools. Meanwhile, elementary schools in East Towson, including Pleasant Plains, Halstead and Oakleigh, remain undersupported," he said.
He added that the other schools are also overcrowded and struggling to keep pace and that "Kamenetz's plan continues this trend."
County Councilman David Marks said the community near the proposed school at the senior center site may have some issues with losing its playground and fields, but that other issues like overcrowding would be solved by the new plan to build a school near the heart of Towson.
Rodgers Forge community members were pleased about the Dumbarton proposal.
"I think we are all very optimistic about the future, but we will remain very vigilant until all the promises have been delivered on," said Kevin Schwab, who has children who will attend or have attended Dumbarton.
Sen. James Brochin, a Democrat representing the area, said he believes that while Kamenetz probably did not collaborate with Dance over the new proposal, he is "trying to follow the will of the people and decide better public policy in terms of education."
Dance has created controversy with some changes he has implemented, such as those to high school schedules, he said, and Kamenetz is trying to curry favor with voters in the central area.
"The only thing that is missing from this is to give Hereford the four-period day back," he said referring to the high school schedule changes that have irritated parents in the northern area of the county.