County school officials pledge better communications on Dumbarton expansion

Baltimore County Public Schools officials on Tuesday pledged to improve communications with Rodgers Forge residents regarding updates and revisions of a controversial proposal to renovate Dumbarton Middle School — a project that involves removal of several historic trees on the property.

The $27.5 million plan calls for additions and renovations to make the 58-year-old school compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, bring the interior up to 21st-century standards and improve traffic flow and safety.

During a meeting with several residents at Rodgers Forge Elementary School, school system chief administrative officer and operations officer Kevin Smith apologized about what he said was poor communication regarding the project, and said he was committed to keeping the lines of dialogue open moving forward.

Smith, who started in his role with the school system last week, said adjustments to the preliminary design sketches have already occurred based on community feedback.

"Some of you think we're not listening to you," Smith said. "But we have made changes."

The main points of contention in the proposal are increased parking and a bus loop that residents say would take away open space in the densely-populated neighborhood, and the removal of 100- to 250-year-old trees. Smith said the number of historic trees that are currently slated for removal to accommodate the renovations has gone from nine in original plan down to six in the latest revised plan.

Stu Sirota, president of the Rodgers Forge Community Association, said he appreciates the gesture from school officials and hopes they will follow through on the promise to keep the community in the loop.

"This is the heart of Rodgers Forge," Sirota said of the property, which is routinely used recreation purposes by residents.

Still, Sirota — an urban planner by profession — said plans to change the property aside from the facility renovations aren't really necessary.

"[The current setup] has worked perfectly for many decades," he said. "This is a solution in search of a problem."

School officials on Tuesday updated the system's website for the Dumbarton project — — and the site notes that Superintendent Dallas Dance has directed staff to form the "workgroup" with representatives from the community. The group will revisit the plans and return by mid-September with recommendations, according to the website.

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