Baltimore County board postpones final vote on Mays Chapel school

Faced with opposition from Mays Chapel residents, the Baltimore County school board postponed a final vote Tuesday night on whether to build an elementary school on 20 acres there to relieve overcrowding.

The board, however, gave preliminary approval to the site and said it will hold a public hearing to further discuss the issue March 19. The board is scheduled to vote the next day.

About 120 Mays Chapel residents attended the board meeting, brandishing small yellow sheets that said, "Save Mays Chapel Park." They object to the plans because they say the school will interfere with their enjoyment of the land, which has been used as a park since developments sprang up along nearby Padonia Road.

"We are not against a school being built, just one being built there," said resident Gail Purnell, who added that 3,000 people have signed a petition opposing the site.

Resident Harold Thompson said, "What is being proposed is a commuter elementary school."

He said that only 10 students who live in the neighborhood would attend the school and that students would be bused to the area.

The new school would likely pull students from seven or eight elementary schools that are now overcrowded, including Pot Spring, Padonia, Pinewood, Riderwood, Timonium, Lutherville and West Towson.

Yara Cheikh, a parent who fought for an addition at Hampton Elementary School, said: "I am more than dismayed that this many people have come out to oppose this school."

She said there is an "urgent need" for a school to be built and Mays Chapel is a central location.

Even construction of a new school is unlikely to provide enough seats for the central area elementary schools, which are projected to grow beyond capacity in the next five years.

"It is possible we would have enrollment and capacity issues" after a school is built, said Kara Calder, who is in charge of planning for the school system. But she added that a new school is "an important step to stabilizing capacity in the area."

If the school is approved and planning is complete in time to begin construction this summer, the 700-seat site would open in August 2014.

The overcrowding in elementary schools stretches from near the city-county line to the Pennsylvania border. West Towson Elementary, completed two years ago to relieve crowding at Rodgers Forge Elementary, is now overcapacity and may take over a portion of an adjoining special education school next year.

Both Stoneleigh and Hampton elementaries are getting additions that will serve another 500 students, but the York Road corridor will still be at least 700 seats short.

The central area elementaries currently have 9,825 seats and 10,921 students, according to the state. The number of elementary students in the area is expected to grow to 11,555 by 2016.

The county purchased the land in Mays Chapel about 30 years ago to build a school, which the school board approved 26 years ago. But board president Lawrence Schmidt has said a decision to build a school there should be voted on by the board again because so much time has passed.

Michael Sines, who is in charge of facilities for the system, said that the school and parking would use about five to 10 acres and that the other land would remain woods and open space for county residents to use.

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