School is out for summer, but that didn't keep Catonsville parents and residents from attending a community input meeting Tuesday night at Catonsville High School to discuss the future of Catonsville Elementary School.
The dimly lit auditorium was abuzz with residents, parents and teachers, who gathered to learn about a Baltimore County Public Schools design plan for a new Catonsville Elementary.
The new school is expected to open August 2016 on the site of the Bloomsbury Community Center at 106 Bloomsbury Ave.
A schematic design for the new school was presented by John DiMenna, senior vice president/principal of Rubeling & Associates, a Towson architecture and interior design firm.
The proposed design will nearly double the elementary school in size, from 59,600 square feet to 103,000 square feet, and accommodate a population of 700 students.
The site will have three levels, with additions that will expand the first two levels.
Plans show an addition of 24,000 square feet to the ground floor and a renovation of 30,149 square feet.
One pre-kindergarten, five kindergarten and five first-grade classrooms will be located on the floor, along with a cafeteria, art room, two music rooms, a gym, and a reading room.
Five second and five third grade classrooms will be on the first floor, along with one ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and one special education classroom. That floor will receive an addition of 13,360 square feet and a renovation of 21,859 square feet, according to the design plan.
A fourth-grade classroom will be located between the ESOL and special education classroom, which Renee McGuirk Spence, a Catonsville resident in attendance and a former special education teacher, pointed out to DiMenna.
DiMenna said, "That's a compromise we have to make."
The second floor will receive a renovation of 22,030 square feet, with no additional square footage. Four fourth-grade and five fifth-grade classrooms will be located on the level, along with a media center.
An elevator will allow access to each level and a new mechanical system will add air-conditioning to the building, something the current Catonsville Elementary building lacks.
A group of Catonsville Elementary teachers present at the meeting, expressed enthusiasm for the new school building, especially for the air-conditioning.
"I'm very excited," said Gigi Elliott, a first-grade teacher at the school on Frederick Road. "We do not have air-conditioning…It does not make it very conducive to learning."
Catonsville Elementary librarian Rebekah Kaufman, who lives in the area, was one of many to express concerns about increased traffic due to the size of the school and additional buses moving in and out of the area.
"I'm concerned about the traffic, not just on Bloomsbury [Avenue], but throughout the entire community," Kaufman said, adding, "My heart goes out to those who live on Bloomsbury."
Kaufman said she would like to see one-way streets added near the school to improve traffic flow.
Others suggested a traffic study was necessary, and officials explained one had been started and that they will continue to study traffic patterns in the area.
"I have confidence in the traffic study, as far as the decisions the county will make," said Catonsville Elementary principal Linda Miller.
Jim Kitchel, a Catonsville resident and PTA president of nearby Hillcrest Elementary said,"Traffic in Catonsville is bad everywhere. I think this would be a good opportunity for the schools and county to work together...I would like to see a coordinated effort."
First District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Catonsville, Arbutus and Lansdowne, said the need to address overcrowding outweighs traffic concerns.
"There are definitely some legitimate concerns about traffic. But I think the most important thing is alleviating overcrowding in southwest Baltimore County schools," Quirk said after the meeting.
Others in the audience were concerned about the boundary change process expected to occur between June 2015 and March 2016.
Students from Hillcrest Elementary, the most overcrowded school in Catonsville with a state-rated capacity of 666 and 817 enrolled students, are expected to be redistricted to attend the new Catonsville Elementary School when it is built.
Some residents brought up concerns about projected overcrowding at Catonsville Middle. That school is also overcrowded, with 794 enrolled in a building with a state-rated capacity of 774, according to BCPS enrollment figures.
However, there is room at nearby Arbutus Middle, which already draws a significant number of students from Catonsville. That school has a state-rated capacity of 1,036 and 807 enrolled students.
Some at the meeting said they want their kids to attend middle school in Catonsville, not in Arbutus, and others suggested building a new middle school to suit that need.
Ellie McIntire, a real estate agent who lives in Catonsville, was concerned about enrollment projection numbers with the construction of a new 700-seat Catonsville Elementary, new 700-seat Westowne Elementary, new 700-seat Relay Elementary and a 200-seat addition at Westchester Elementary.
"You're not looking at the big picture, you're looking at the now," McIntire said to the group of officials.
Paul Taylor, coordinator for the BCPS Office of Strategic Planning, explained that attrition is taken into consideration when looking at enrollment projections for middle schools.
"Moving from middle to high or elementary to middle, there is usually a more smooth or consistent shift in enrollment," Taylor said. "From primary to middle school, there is a unique shift."
Taylor said the county faces a challenge when asking for state funds to build a school, because they will ask if it is possible to send students to nearby schools, such as Arbutus Middle, for example.
Quirk said building a new middle school in Catonsville would be expensive and unnecessary with Arbutus Middle nearby.
"Arbutus Middle is a phenomenal school with a great principal and teachers," he said. "We need to foster cohesion between Catonsville and Arbutus."
The schematic design is available on the BCPS website: http://www.bcps.org/construction/southwest/
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