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Opponents still adamantly against proposed Mays Chapel elementary

For the second time in 10 months, Mays Chapel residents on Monday night used a hearing before the Baltimore County Board of Education to express their opposition to the use of Mays Chapel Park for a new 700-seat elementary school.

Over the course of the two-hour public hearing at Loch Raven High School on Jan. 14, many of the three dozen speakers cited economic, environmental and personal reasons for the board to vote down the park as a schoolhouse location in what will be the board's second vote on the matter.

"I thought the Mays Chapel community had made it perfectly clear that we must retain this park," Pat Prater, who lives in the Limerick Condominiums, in Mays Chapel, said during the hearing.

"To even consider taking this area away from the residents and replace it with a concrete school … is totally unacceptable," Prater said.

Plans for an elementary school to be built on 8 acres of the 20-acre plot were proposed as a means of alleviating overcrowding at eight York Road-corridor elementary schools — Padonia, Pot Spring, Lutherville, Pinewood, Warren, Timonium, Riderwood and West Towson — and approved in March 2012.

Baltimore County owns 10 of the acres of the open space, located on West Padonia Road at Roundwood Road, while the school system owns the other 10 acres.

The first public hearing was hastily called by the school board in mid-March and just days later, the board voted to approve the park as the site of a new elementary school.

Attorney Alan Zukerberg, on behalf of a group that included the Save Mays Chapel Park Committee, then filed an appeal with the State Board of Education on the grounds that proper public notice for the meeting was not given.

In December, the state board ruled in favor of the community groups that opposed the project, and the school board was ordered to start the process over again.

School board President Lawrence Schmidt said after the Jan. 14 meeting that he read the state board's decision carefully and found no fault with its basis. Additionally, Schmidt said that with a handful of new board members and some new testimony presented at the hearing, the board's decision had not already been made.

Still, many speakers at the Monday night meeting found the previous experience difficult to disregard.

'Deceitful and dishonest'

Prater alleged during her remarks that the 2012 process was "deceitful and dishonest … not to mention illegal."

Paul Lang, who lives in a nearby condominium complex, said he hoped the second hearing was "not merely a pro forma attempt to remove a technical obstacle" only to reaffirm their previous vote.

Art O'Neil, an opponent of the park, said that moving forward with the Mays Chapel site was like any other business proceeding with a bad idea simply because so many hours had already been invested in it.

Changing course from such plans, O'Neil said, "takes courage, and I'm hopeful — and I think — that Baltimore County may have the leadership to actually back up and say, 'We've gone too far. Let's not make a huge mistake.' "

Still, many of the speakers at Monday's meeting harped on familiar points in their opposition. Citing the health and environmental benefits of green space, residents lamented the proposed loss of the only open space in the elderly community. They argued against the idea that Mays Chapel is better suited for a school than another proposed site east of York Road, Dulaney Springs.

And just as they did at the last year's hearing, many speakers emphasized that they aren't against educating the county's children — only the selected location.

"I feel that it's not in the best interest of the children," Susan Mills, a Mays Chapel resident and professor emeritus at Goucher College, said. "An ideal elementary school would be one where children can walk to school. … Such a neighborhood school leads to a sense of community; promotes smart growth as well as a sustainable environment."

Some new veins of opposition also emerged at the hearing, including the Mays Chapel Action Committee. Comprised of residents who live in the condominiums at the park's southwest edge, that organization also protested the school being built within the park.

Just a handful of the speakers supported school site. One, Timonium resident Jean Suda, emphasized that the land had always been earmarked for a school. Another, former school board student member Logan McNaney, lauded the decision he voted for in 2012 before being interrupted and shouted down by a site opponent.

Yara Cheikh, a school advocate who lobbied for the Hampton Elementary addition, eschewed the notion that a commuter school at Mays Chapel would not be a community school. The school could be fully populated by students who live within five miles of the school and already play sports together, she said.

"We need to think about a larger community than the .4 miles around the park," Cheikh said.

The Board of Education will vote on the school site for a second time at its Feb. 5 meeting. The meeting, which will be held in the ESS Building at 6901 N. Charles St., begins at 7 p.m.

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