Stoneleigh celebrates start of $18.8 million addition

A year of advocacy was punctuated with celebration Wednesday morning, June 6, as construction of a 200-seat addition to Stoneleigh Elementary School began with a ceremonial groundbreaking.

"Less than a year ago, we were saying, 'What are we going to do?' " said Juliet Fisher, a member of the advocacy group, Stoneleigh United. "'How are we going to get something done?' And a year later, here we are."

While those who were responsible for securing the funds — County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Superintendent Joe Hairston, Dels. Bill Frank and Steve Lafferty, and County Councilman David Marks — were all in attendance, each deferred the spotlight to parents and community members who fought hard for an expanded schoolhouse they believe their children desperately needed.

Stoneleigh has a state-rated capacity of 499, but enrollment swelled to 690 students this year.

Principal Christine Warner said the community's advocacy efforts were the reason such a ceremony was being held.

Addressing students at the school who gathered for the festive celebration, Warner said, "What I want you to remember — as boys and girls in a schoolhouse that had the wonderful privilege of being renovated and added to — that it was about people coming together to do what's right for their community, for their boys and girls, for their families."

Kamenetz called Stoneleigh "a very special part of greater Towson," and said funding the $18.8 million addition and renovation "was not a hard decision for us to make."

Hairston, in his last month on the job before he retires after a dozen years as superintendent, recalled attending a ribbon cutting of the school's most recent addition 12 years ago, and said the opportunity to have another one next year "happened because of all the wonderful adults in the community."

Follow the yellow bus road

After the ceremonial shoveling of dirt and a musical performance by the fifth-grade steel drum band, Warner and a handful of staff members emerged from the school dressed as characters from the "The Wizard of Oz."

But instead of being off to see the wizard, they led students in a song about how they were heading off to the George Washington Carver Center for the Arts and Technology.

In order to expedite the construction process, students, teachers and staff at Stoneleigh are traveling up York Road to the old Carver high school building, which will be retrofitted for smaller students for the 2012-13 school year.

The move, which is known as the "180-day field trip" at Stoneleigh, will allow for the construction and renovation to be completed in time for students to return for the 2013-2014 school year.

Jennie Emerson, a kindergarten teacher at Stoneleigh, said the teachers have spent the year explaining the move to students.

"They know they're going to an existing school, and they're actually pretty excited about it," Emerson said.

Fellow kindergarten teacher Jenny Bond, who's in her first year teaching, had quite a bit less to pack up than Emerson, who has been teaching at Stoneleigh since 1985. When the teachers leave Stoneleigh for the final time this year, they'll be leaving everything for moving crews to bring to Carver.

"It's been a lot of fun packing, but we're ready," Emerson said.

Parental guidance

Before Wednesday's ceremony began, Marks recalled the Stoneleigh United parents sitting in his office seeking his assistance in securing money for the addition.

"Because of their efforts, this addition is under way," he said. "It's amazing to get a project like this under way in 18 months, and it's a cornerstone of our work to reduce school overcrowding in Towson."

Fisher said she and the 11 other women who were on the Stoneleigh United board reflected on their efforts at a gathering before the groundbreaking Wednesday.

"It was the most incredible feeling to know that 12 of us really helped make this happen," she said. "We thought about it, we wanted to do something, and we got involved."

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