Balto. County plans to build middle school Project would relieve crowding at 3 sites in western district

'The only answer'

Proposed location is between Woodlawn and Randallstown

October 12, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

With middle school enrollment in western Baltimore County projected to increase by more than 25 percent in the next four years, county officials have agreed to build a middle school between Woodlawn and Randallstown.

The plans -- which would reduce the number of students at Southwest Academy and Woodlawn and Old Court middle schools as early as 2002 -- drew praise from parents frustrated by crowding in their children's schools.

"Finally, we're going to get some relief," said Cyndi Bellman, PTA president at Southwest Academy. "Even with a change in boundary lines this year, we have about as many kids as we had last year. A new school is the only answer."

The decision comes as new data show that the county's public school enrollment increased by 780 students this year -- or 0.7 percent -- to 106,300. The system, which has 161 schools, is among the 25 largest in the country.

Enrollment is projected to increase slightly across the district over the next six years, but some areas of the county are expected to grow rapidly while enrollment in other areas likely will decrease.

Among the fastest-growing areas will be Baltimore County's west side. Last school year, county and state officials agreed to build an elementary school as quickly as possible on Dogwood Road in Woodlawn to relieve severe crowding at Chadwick and Hebbville elementary schools.

The middle school will be built on 22 acres owned by the school board on Windsor Mill Road, south of Old Court Road, said Michael H. Davis, spokesman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. The school could be ready by fall 2002 or 2003.

"As we look at the numbers, it's become clear that we need another middle school in that area," Davis said.

This year, enrollment at the three middle schools in the Woodlawn area -- Southwest, Old Court and Woodlawn -- increased 2.5 percent, but is expected to grow significantly in the next five years.

While the enrollment at Old Court and Woodlawn is below the capacity of both buildings, Southwest Academy must accommodate almost 100 over its capacity, according to the enrollment data. All three schools are projected to be overcapacity within the next few years.

This year's crowding at Southwest Academy occurred despite redistricting by the school board last spring to shift some students to Woodlawn and Old Court.

"Expectations were raised," school board member Phyllis E. Ettinger said recently. "They come back and they feel like they're back to square one because the number of students hasn't gone down."

'Grossly overcrowded'

Parents say Southwest Academy's cafeteria and hallways are jammed with students, and four school buses have to take two loads of children home after school -- forcing about 200 students to wait outside every day until the buses return.

The school, which has four temporary classrooms, is expected to get at least two more by January. Parents say they have been told by Southwest Academy administrators that the transportation problem would be solved this week.

"It's just grossly overcrowded," said Monica Creel, who has one child at Southwest Academy and another at Chadwick Elementary. "It's a good school, but they need to fix the problems and then they need at least one new school."

Administrators at the school didn't return three phone messages left in the past week.

"The need is there for a new school," County Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley said. "This should solve the problems."

Looking for funds

County officials need to find the $15 million to $18 million it would cost to build the middle school -- particularly with the county facing massive bills to repair the system's aging buildings.

Davis said the cost of the new middle school is partly why county officials are willing to repair 90-year-old Randallstown Elementary School but not replace it.

County officials hope to secure state approval for the new school this spring, and they will include construction money for the school in the county's November 2000 bond referendum.

Pub Date: 10/12/98

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