Questions but few answers regarding elementary school in Catonsville

The question of where to put the 500 new elementary school seats allocated for Catonsville in the 2014 county budget remains unanswered, even after a community meeting hosted May 8 by Baltimore County at Catonsville High School .

The seats could be in new school buildings, outdoor portable classrooms, or both, according to Charles Herndon, school district spokesman.

"All we want at this point is input from parents and the community as to what we need to do to facilitate bringing 500 new seats to the area," Herndon said.

Catonsville resident Andrew Wilson, the head of Hillcrest Elementary School's overcrowding committee, said he heard many suggestions for the new space, including demolishing or renovating the Bloomsbury Community Center.

Wilson said he wished the county had presented the community with a more concrete plan during the May 8 meeting in the cafeteria at Catonsville High School.

However, he said, the meeting was a great opportunity for sharing ideas.

Wilson, who put the turnout at "at least a couple hundred," said, "It seemed like the first time that the community of Catonsville came together for the issue."

Wilson said the parents were divided into groups of about 20, then asked to brainstorm where to put the allocated seats.

"They asked for a solution, but they didn't share what they were thinking and they didn't share the data that they must have," Wilson said on May 10. "That was kind of unfortunate."

Hillcrest Elementary School is 149 students over state capacity.

But it is not the only area elementary school dealing with overcrowding. Catonsville (34), Johnnycake (92), Westchester (91) and Westowne (71) are also over the state capacity, according to the county.

China Williams, a parent from Westowne Elementary School who attended the meeting, said a lot of residents expressed concerns about getting redistricted should a new school be built.

She said she felt county representatives were vague about disclosing potential options to the community.

"It's still very unclear," she said.

First District Councilman Tom Quirk said that, regardless of the location for the seats, this is a positive development for Catonsville.

"I think the key thing for the community is knowing the commitment for, at the very minimum, having 500 new seats," he said on May 10.

"I'm excited," he said. "I think it's great news that we have a new elementary school, at least 500 to 700 new seats."

Quirk, who did not attend the meeting, said he has received a number of positive responses about the session.

"I think right now, there's multiple ideas for where this new school could be and how it's going to work," Quirk said May 10.

Wilson said he and some other parents wished they had gotten more advanced notice about the 5:30 meeting to rearrange work schedules and child care.

"When you put a time frame on it like that, it tends to be parents who have flexibility in the work schedule," Wilson said. "And a lot of jobs don't offer that, so you don't get the diversity in attendance."

School board member George Moniodis, who lives and works in Catonsville, said the meeting had to be scheduled quickly.

"All of a sudden, the funding was made available to us, and we don't want to lose the opportunity," he said last week.

"We didn't want to have a rushed meeting, but there's a timetable on it and I don't know exactly what the timetable is," he said.

"As a board, we're looking to meet the needs of the community," Moniodis said.

"It might take several months to get the input from the communities , so we didn't want to wait until the last minute to get their input," he said.


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