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The Bykota Senior Center, long the subject of speculation as a possible site for a new Towson-area elementary school, now is off the table, and the Baltimore County public school system is instead looking to expand Pleasant Plains and Oakleigh elementaries, a top official said.
The Bykota Senior Center, long the subject of speculation as a possible site for a new Towson-area elementary school, now is off the table, and the Baltimore County public school system is instead looking to expand Pleasant Plains and Oakleigh elementaries, a top official said. (Staff photo by Elizabeth Eck)

The Bykota Senior Center, long the subject of speculation as a possible site for a new Towson-area elementary school, now is off the table, and the Baltimore County public school system is instead looking to expand Pleasant Plains and Oakleigh elementaries, a top official said Monday.

"We were evaluating several sites. Bykota was one of them. Now we are leaning toward a different plan," said Kevin Smith, the school system's chief administrative and operations officer. He said adding a combined 400 seats at Oakleigh, in Parkville, and Pleasant Plains, in Towson, "would give us the same effect" as rebuilding on the site of Bykota, 611 Central Ave. in Towson.

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"We were looking to cover about 400 seats," Smith said.

The administration submitted a recommendation to the county school board in December, but is not ready to say how much the plan would cost.

"We don't have final figures. I would be afraid to do that," Smith said.

County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, said he supports the new plan.

"I think on balance, renovating and building additions on those two schools is a very good thing," Marks said, citing overcrowding at both Pleasant Plains and Oakleigh.

Marks said he and County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins had made a similar proposal last year, when the school system was considering reopening Loch Raven Elementary School.

Marks said the new plan could spell big changes for another school, Cromwell Valley Elementary, which is currently a regional magnet school for technology.

"I suspect with this new (about additions to Peasant Plains and Oakleigh), there will probably be an effort to make (Cromwell Valley) a neighborhood school," Marks said.

Smith said the school system is evaluating magnet schools in the county, but said that study is a separate issue.

But Marks said that with Towson expected to experience "significant growth over the next 10 years, "You're going to need classroom space. You're not going to solve the problem" with additions to Oakleigh and Pleasant Plains.

The new plan is welcome news for many residents who want to keep Bykota Senior Center open, Marks said.

"Generally, the constituents I represent in Towson did not want to see Bykota replaced. I think there were a lot of concerns about the footprint of (the proposed school), increased traffic and where a new senior center would be built," Marks said.

Maureen Partilla, principal of Pleasant Plains Elementary, wrote in an email that she supports an addition to her school because "the school community is growing and this would alleviate the potential for overcrowding."

The principal of Oakleigh could not be reached for comment.

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In 2013, school officials looking for a way to reduce overcrowding were bandying about three ideas, including building a new school on the Bykota site or building a new school on the site of Loch Raven Elementary, which closed in 1982. A third idea was more complicated, involving the addition of 300 seats to Cromwell Valley, reopening or rebuilding Loch Raven as a community school to serve a population that attends Halstead Academy, and turning Halstead into a language-immersion magnet school.

The school system's proposed capital budget for fiscal year 2016 currently calls only for air conditioning improvements to Pleasant Plains, Oakleigh and Halstead.

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