Country School told to alter plans for expansion to meet objections

Roland Park residents fear increase in light, noise, traffic at night

October 01, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Along the shady side of Deepdene Road, Roland Park Country School plans an expensive expansion, which has sparked an uproar among neighbors across the street -- a conflict that came before the city's Design Advisory Panel yesterday without a final resolution.

After hearing from both sides, the panel told the school's architects to return on Nov. 11 to show reconfigured drawings addressing the neighborhood's main request: Change the planned location of a cafeteria and move it a level off the ground.

Several Deepdene Road families say they fear increased light, noise and trash truck traffic will result if the cafeteria faces the street.

"This is institutional intrusion into a gorgeous example of urban planning," said Christine McSherry, a lawyer who lives on Deepdene Road. "The community has to defend itself."

`An ill-mannered affront'

The furor has uncovered a fault line of tensions between Baltimore's oldest private schools and their posh surrounding neighborhoods. Even families that have sent their daughters to the single-sex school, which educates 700 students from kindergarten to 12th grade, have expressed alarm about the proposed construction.

"This is an ill-mannered affront," said Stanley Heuisler, who has lived in Roland Park since 1946. His daughter Kate graduated from the school in 1996. "We think the school's a terrific school, but the lines are drawn."

School head Jean Brune, a Deepdene Road resident, said the $6.5 million addition -- for a new cafeteria and academic space including a kindergarten classroom and a middle school -- is crucial to maintaining the caliber of the 100-year-old school.

The addition is a project to celebrate the centennial, she said, with groundbreaking scheduled for spring and its opening planned in two years.

School tradition

Brune attended the school before it moved from University Parkway to its current 22-acre campus -- some of it forest -- 20 years ago. "We have a tradition of being a school under one roof," she said.

Brune noted that two floors of the 41,000-square-foot addition will be devoted to science and technology classrooms -- key areas to teach girls for the next century.

Neighbors are resigned to the new building on the slope, but not to certain aspects.

"I don't think we'll change what the school is going to build, but we can influence the use of the facilities," said Jerry Winkelstein, a pediatrician whose two daughters attended the Country School.

Brune was asked in a community meeting this week if she would restrict dances and other nighttime activities in the cafeteria overlooking their homes. She said she could not promise that, but would meet with staff about ways to cut down on illumination emanating from there, such as by shutting the blinds.

As for moving the cafeteria up one level to face a courtyard, Brune was skeptical: "It would mean cutting through a playground and the middle school as one defined space," she said yesterday.

When asked about traffic, Brune said that though a trash compactor and food storage space are being added, "There will be no more trucks coming round the side of the building than there already are."

Academic needs

School administrators say the Deepdene hillside is the only place on which to build on campus. Residents opposing the plan say they mean only to protect the beauty of their surroundings, which were designed by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted, who created New York's Central Park.

"There are New England villages that are not as attractive as this neighborhood," Winkelstein said.

School officials say it comes down to not compromising academics.

"We have really tried to listen, but we can't make those needs go away," Brune said.

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