By S. Dallas Dance, Superintendent
The need for more elementary school seats in the central area has been an ongoing challenge for Baltimore County Public Schools. We appreciate how engaged the community has been in working with us to find solutions. This is really a new process for us – opening up and inviting the public to be a part of identifying relief strategies. We know that by working together we will find better and more lasting answers.
Here’s a quick review of what has already taken place: In 2010, to help ease overcrowding, the new 450-seat West Towson Elementary School opened. This year, we completed a 200-seat addition to Stoneleigh Elementary and a 340-seat addition to Hampton Elementary, and we broke ground for a 700-seat school to be built in the Mays Chapel area. We are also in the process of adding 200 seats to Sparks Elementary and identifying a location inside the beltway for 500 additional seats. In total, we will have added 2,390 elementary seats in the central area over the course of five to six years.
We have a tremendous opportunity at this time to not only make changes but to make the right changes. Our funding authorities have committed funds to help us manage growth. We have the time to balance enrollment among all schools to support student success and strong community schools. And we are engaged in a 10-year capital planning process to ensure modern facilities for the future.
Community meetings held May 16, 2013, and again on June 12, 2013, at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, focused on identifying where we might add the proposed 500 new elementary seats. The following sites were recommended at the May meeting for review: the land behind Timonium Elementary, the Greenwood campus of BCPS, Carver Center, YMCA, Bykota Senior Center, Baltimore County Detention Center, the fire station on York Road, Towson Catholic, Rodgers Forge Elementary and Overlook Park.
At the June 12 meeting, BCPS staff reviewed the current ownership, location and size of the proposed sites; explained why the Timonium Elementary and Greenwood sites are not feasible; and architects described some of the challenges of building an elementary school at Carver Center, Bykota, and Rodgers Forge. The point of their presentation was to show some of the process we go through when vetting properties. We will go through this process with all of the sites identified by the community and sites identified with the assistance of a Realtor we have engaged.
We also spent time at the meeting discussing comprehensive approaches to shifting school boundaries and the timelines for our work to develop additional seats.
We have engaged a consulting firm to begin working in September with the community and staff to review school boundaries – not only for the opening of the new elementary school at Mays Chapel but also for the anticipated additional 500 seats – being sensitive to the need to respect neighborhood cohesion, align with feeder patterns, and maximize walkability. In November, we will invite the community to join with us again to hear and respond to proposals to add 500 seats to the central area.
In the meantime, please check the What’s Happening section of the BCPS Web site (www.bcps.org) for updates, and please remain involved in the process. Only with you can we achieve our shared goal of effective 21st century learning environments for all students.