Mays Chapel school: We need answers

Taxpayers deserve answers to a number of questions regarding the proposed Mays Chapel school project. For example, why the air of secrecy surrounding the project? According to Third District Councilman Todd Huff, he was "caught by complete and total surprise" by news of the Mays Chapel project status.

How will the county respond to the economic uncertainties presented by rising fuel prices, since nearly all students would require busing from other communities? As Superintendent Joe Hairston and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz push forward on a controversial school project, intended to serve approximately 700 students, the irony of the situation — building a commuter school by design during a time of volatile, rising fuel costs with no end in sight — should sound an alarm. Have alternatives to the costly Mays Chapel proposal, such as selective school additions and/or the use of other properties, been sufficiently vetted in the light of day?

A meeting is scheduled at Loch Raven High School next Monday night. Baltimore County's concerned citizens would be well served by demanding transparent answers accompanied by real numbers, i.e., (1) specific costs of installing non-existent infrastructure (new roads, water, sewerage, power grid) at the Mays Chapel location; (2) long-term environmental impact of busing almost all of the proposed Mays Chapel school's population up and down the York Road corridor — in addition to highly probable increases in fuel costs over time; and (3) unspecified opportunity costs resulting from the destruction of the existing $2.5 million Mays Chapel Park.

Scenarios being depicted of neighborhood children walking to a North Mays Chapel area elementary school totally mischaracterize the proposed location. On the contrary, children will be uprooted from their home communities and transported by bus to Mays Chapel, a predominantly senior community. Surely, this was not the intention of county officials when the property was acquired. New schools historically have been purposefully built within students' home communities. The Mays Chapel school proposal apparently sets a new precedent in Baltimore County: designing an elementary school as a commuter school, with little regard to the impact on young children who must make the daily commute or to the tangible and intangible costs to taxpayers.

From the perspective of an educator and former student of numerous Timonium area schools, including a trailer at Timonium Elementary, student outcomes clearly depend on events occurring inside the classroom. I fail to see any "magic" or fiscal or environmental advantages inherent in the Mays Chapel location. Surely, there are alternatives to spending $20 million and untold millions of future dollars on a project that could very likely be undertaken at a more desirable location with reduced financial risk, decreased environmental impact, and without the destruction of a prized community park serving thousands of local residents.

The lack of communication surrounding this project leaves some county residents pondering what information has not been shared. Whatever the long-term benefits to Mr. Kamenetz in his appeal to selected constituencies, all county residents are entitled to the transparency that should have defined the Mays Chapel discussion from day one. Following protracted study, a similar Mays Chapel school project was rejected in 2008. The behind-the-scenes manner in which outgoing Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Hairston and Executive Kamenetz have circumvented affected citizens in their handling of this latest Mays Chapel "study" lead one to surmise that cost-benefit and other deterrents existing in 2008 have not improved since that time.

Sharon Crain, Catonsville

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