Mays Chapel school plan dropped

The Baltimore Sun

A plan to build a special-education school in the Mays Chapel area of Baltimore County has been scuttled because county officials doubt that they can get money from the state to help with construction.

The idea fizzled after state education officials told county school and government officials that they "strongly discourage" building separate special-education facilities, Donald I. Mohler, a spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr. , said yesterday.

"That made it clear to us that obtaining state funding would be very difficult, if not impossible," Mohler said. "Everyone is well aware of the extremely difficult fiscal position we're going to be in. We do not have the money to forward fund a new elementary school at this time."

School officials had been considering building a school for special-education students in Mays Chapel, a community along West Padonia Road near Interstate 83 in Timonium, to help alleviate crowding in the Towson area.

During the fall, school officials said building the facility in Mays Chapel would allow them to transfer all students from Ridge Ruxton School in Towson, which has 123 special-education students and 90 staff members. That would free classroom space for children in the Towson area.

County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said yesterday that building a school in Mays Chapel was only an idea that had been floated, and that, in light of the funding problem, other options were being considered.

"The absolute, only thing we knew was that we own the property," he said. "Right now, we're focusing our attention on helping the Rodgers Forge community. They know they need relief, and they know we're working hard on it."

The Mays Chapel property, a 20-acre parcel, was favored initially because it is centrally located for the students it serves and would minimize the travel time for most students.

The school system owns half, and the county Recreation and Parks Department owns half. The system allows the county to use its portion. The Mays Chapel school was proposed for land that serves as a park, with walking trails and ball fields.

Mays Chapel residents waged a campaign against the plan. Hundreds attended a community meeting with school officials to support keeping the park. Residents also said they worried about increased traffic from school buses and staff members in the densely populated area.

But Towson-area parents have repeatedly complained about crowded schools: "I'm really dismayed at the lack of anyone recognizing this is a problem," said Cathi Forbes, a parent of a Rodgers Forge Elementary student. "We need another elementary school."

As of Sept. 30, Rodgers Forge Elementary had 625 students, though the school's capacity is 408, according to school district records. Stoneleigh Elementary, with a capacity of 499 children, has 623 students; Hampton, with a capacity of 307, has 377 students; and Riderwood, built for 501 students, has 513.

Angelo DelNegro, a Timonium resident who heads the Save Mays Chapel committee, said yesterday he was pleased the proposed school plan has been dropped.

"We have said that it didn't make sense from the get-go to take a park in a high-density area to solve an overcrowding problem in Towson," he said. "We've taken a lot of flak that we're against special education or we're against education, when the only thing we've been against is taking a park."

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