Construction of school starts today in Pikesville

Woodholme Elementary drew residents' opposition

April 28, 2004|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

Although many in the community still aren't pleased with the chosen location for a much-needed elementary school in northwestern Baltimore County, ground is to be broken today for Woodholme Elementary in Pikesville.

School officials have an ambitious construction schedule for the $15.3 million school, which they hope to open for the 2005-06 school year.

Many Pikesville residents had opposed building Woodholme Elementary at 300 Mount Wilson Lane, which they said is too narrow and winding to accommodate the school, new housing and two other planned developments.

But their opposition has waned with the twin realizations that the project can't be stopped and that several crowded schools in northwest Baltimore County need relief.

"You have to ride a horse in the direction it's heading," said Sherrie Becker, executive director of the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce, who continues to harbor concerns about congestion on Mount Wilson Lane.

The 82,837-square-foot building will sit on 10 acres next to county softball and soccer fields. The school will have 37 classrooms for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, plus a computer classroom, media center and a gym that doubles as a cafeteria.

To speed up construction and cut costs, officials are using blueprints similar to the ones for two schools built recently, New Town Elementary and Dogwood Elementary, which were also intended to stem crowding.

Although the two new schools have helped ease the crunch, they haven't solved the problem. Seven of the 20 elementary schools in northwestern Baltimore County have exceeded state capacity.

New Town Elementary's enrollment has been limited this school year at 900 pupils, which is 150 pupils over capacity.

When that school opened three years ago, it was hundreds of pupils over capacity because of the way boundaries were drawn. Scott Gehring, who oversees all schools in the area, said Woodholme Elementary would not be the final answer either.

"It's a step in the right direction," he said. "It's a matter of trying to keep up with the building and provide the best possible education for kids."

The extent of relief for neighboring schools won't be known until a committee of community leaders, educators and parents develops boundaries for Woodholme Elementary. The committee is expected to form this fall.

Ghassan Shah, a school system planner, said New Town Elementary, Owings Mills Elementary and Millbrook Elementary would probably get the most relief. He said new housing would require more new schools.

"As you build and you increase density, you will have the need for additional public services - and schools are on the list," he said.

Roxanne Lucas, PTA president at New Town Elementary, welcomed Woodholme Elementary's construction but expressed concern that New Town Elementary would remain crowded, requiring one or two trailers with portable classrooms.

"We're still not going to be at our in-school capacity once Woodholme opens," she said, "so where do you go from there?"

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