Towson area state and local officials have written to Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance asking for assurances that the Loch Raven Elementary School building will be saved — and Dance's chief of staff says plans call for renovation and an addition at the school.
The 66-year-old school building hasn't welcomed elementary school students since 1982 but Dance last year proposed moving the children of Halstead Academy to a new school on the Loch Raven site.
Local and community officials have continued to express fears about demolishing the 1948 school, which currently operates as a community center and is protected as a historic landmark.
In an April 30 letter to Dance released last week and signed by Councilman David Marks; Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins; state Sen. Jim Brochin; and Dels. Sue Aumann, William Frank and Steve Lafferty, the correspondents were "seeking a clear assurance that the Board will not seek demolition of the original structure of Loch Raven Elementary School. We understand that the Board may seek to modify the historic footprint of the property to accommodate the new community center or elements of the school, but do not support demolition of the original building."
"We are going to respond to Councilman Mark's letter," Michele Prumo, Dance's chief of staff, told the Towson Times in a voice mail May 5. "We have gone on record that we will be doing a renovation-addition at Loch Raven Elementary School."
The school building and itscampus is designated as a historic landmark, said Marks, who said he was vice chairman of the Baltimore County Historical Trust when a vote was taken to protect the school property.
The school, constructed of bluestone, was part of one of the first planned unit developments, situating the school in the heart of the community instead of on a main road, the councilman said. In addition, it has the distinction of having had Vice President Spiro Agnew, who was born in Towson, as the first president of the Loch Raven Community Council.
"It's a really neat structure, and we think it ought to be preserved," Marks said.
Marks, who said he has not heard from Dance, responded to Prumo's remarks in an email, "All we are asking is that the original structure be preserved. If that is what they mean by a renovation, then that satisfies my concerns."
Although the letter was signed only by elected officials, neighborhood leaders have spoken out about the future of Loch Raven Elementary in the past.
"We've been excluded from it and our questions haven't been answered," said Jason Garber, the newly elected president of the Associates of Loch Raven Village. He has served on a joint Loch Raven and Knettishall Community Association for the past nine months, seeking answers to concerns about plans for the school. These include, in addition to the fate of the building, traffic, transportation, the future of the community center and how plans will proceed, Garber said.
Garber remains skeptical about how much of the building will be preserved. "Renovation opens the door to demolition," he said, noting that he understands some demolition may be necessary to rehabilitate the old building. "What will be saved?" he asked. "I still have not heard them say they will not do any demolition."
In documents about the plan, Marks said "they talk about renovation, they talk about preserving the historical elements of the school."
"That's our concern, that they're going to demolish the whole structure," Marks said.
Patricia Betz, executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Baltimore County, said her group has written to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Marks and a representative of the Interagency Committee on School Construction, who did respond. "He said he would be mindful of the preservation of the building," Bentz said, but added, "He was very vague."
The Morning Sun
On the BCPS website, the Central Area Capital Improvement Plan Timeline indicates "renovation and/or replacement of the former Loch Raven Elementary School with a capacity of 600 students."
The timeline, which was updated April 3, says about 450 of the spaces would accommodate Halstead students with the remainder relieving overpopulated surrounding schools.
The website says design should be completed in December with the construction contract awarded in May 2015. The boundary change process would take place between June 2015 and February 2016. A presentation at the Board of Education with a hearing and vote would take place in February and March 2016. The new school would open in August 2016, according to the website.
The current Halstead Academy would be closed at the same time to be used for a new purpose.
These plans, along with expansion of Cromwell Valley Elementary School, were proposed last year as short-term solutions for overcrowded conditions at central area elementary schools.
Marks said it was important to include the signatures of local General Assembly representatives since funding for public school construction is considered by the state Board of Public Works, which includes the governor, comptroller and state treasurer.
Since Loch Raven operates as a community center, Marks said the county budget includes funds for a new center, which could be built on the same property.