30 protesters picket Ruppersberger's office Group opposes changes to county's plan for school

March 15, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The war of words over the fate of the former Catonsville Middle School moved to the streets yesterday the plaza outside Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III's window.

About 30 people paraded in Towson with protest signs for a half-hour, seeking publicity for their cause, they said.

Jim Himmel, vice president of the Catonsville Community Conservation Association, said the group had not warned the county executive about the protest. "We really felt it would be better to surprise him," he said.

But after trying to speak with Mr. Ruppersberger, they changed course, deciding to wait until next week for that. They declined his offer of a meeting yesterday, because the school bus they used for transportation had to return home to pick up their children.

Mr. Himmel said voters believed they had approved $9 million in the November 1994 referendum to renovate the Bloomsbury Avenue building for renewed use as a middle school only to have the county change plans.

Group members said such changes mean the money is just a "slush fund" for politicians, including Mr. Ruppersberger, who was elected in November 1994.

County schools budget official James Kraft said enrollment figures show that a new 500-seat Southwestern Elementary School is needed much more in the area than a middle school.

The county hopes that in May the state will approve money toward construction of the elementary school on the land where the current Catonsville Middle School is located, in the 2300 block of Edmondson Ave.

The school board also has decided to donate the 70-year-old Bloomsbury building to the county for community use.

Mr. Kraft said last year's plans for a 300-seat addition to the middle school have been scaled back by the county planning board, which now wants money to add six to eight classrooms, enlarge the cafeteria and add a hallway. Enrollment projections for next year show the middle school only 18 students over capacity, he said.

Ruppersberger administration spokesman Michael H. Davis said it is not unusual for budget priorities to change after a bond referendum. Voters, he said, approve a total amount for school construction, but specific projects and their priority often shift.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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