Community set to defend Kenwood's expansion plan

Balto. Co. school board to vote on budget request

October 04, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Parents, staff and students at Kenwood High in eastern Baltimore County spent last week mobilizing to save a planned $11 million, 400-seat addition and renovation at their crowded school.

But school district and county officials say the project faces little risk. Instead, the mobilization highlights the community's anxiety about the Baltimore County school board's vote tomorrow night on its school construction budget request for next school year, which includes the planned addition and renovation.

Some in the community would rather see a high school built to ease crowding in the northeastern and central parts of the county.

A consultant hired by the school board recommended construction of a school, finding that the district will need 850 more high school seats by the 2007-2008 school year.

The report shows Kenwood students represent nearly 300 of the 850 seats.

The county provides most of the money for school construction, and County Executive James T. Smith Jr. has taken the position that a 400-seat addition at Kenwood and a 100-seat addition at Eastern Technical High School will go a long way toward relieving crowding. Therefore, he believes, a new school isn't necessary.

At a school board meeting last month, board member Rodger Janssen said he would like to see the county build new schools rather than add onto existing ones. Expressing a view held by many proponents of a new school, he said the county is turning its high schools into "warehouses" by making them too big.

Kenwood Principal Paul D. Martin says a new school will be necessary even after Kenwood's addition. The school is built to house 1,527 students, and its current enrollment is 1,868. He said the consultant's study did not account for coming residential development in Middle River and along the extension of Route 43, connecting White Marsh with Middle River.

"Building a new high school, that's not a one-year or two-year process," Martin said. "By the time they acquire land, do all the studies, you're talking four, five, six years down the road. In the meantime, what are we supposed to do?"

In addition to relieving crowding, the Kenwood project would replace a long-outdated technology education building that PTA President Althea Page says contains many safety hazards.

At a parent conference night, on school announcements and in a letter sent home to parents, Martin and Page urged the school community to write to school board members and area politicians, to contact the media and to attend tomorrow's board meeting.

Smith has budgeted $8.7 million for the project. It is only listed in the school board's capital budget request because the district needs to get the remainder of the money from the state, said school board President James R. Sasiadek.

Sasiadek said he does not envision the board taking the Kenwood project off its list of priorities. "I would suspect Kenwood would not have a problem at all," he said.

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