Mays Chapel neighbors want park, not school

Parcel eyed for new facility

October 17, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun reporter

Residents of the Mays Chapel area of Timonium are unhappy about the Baltimore County school system's plans to build a school for special-education students on the site of the community's popular park.

School officials say a school in Mays Chapel could help alleviate crowding elsewhere, particularly in the county's central area. It would allow them to transfer all students from Ridge Ruxton School, which has 123 special education students and 90 staff members.

That move would free up classroom space in the Towson area.

But residents say the Mays Chapel property, which the school system has owned since the 1970s, should remain a park. They also worry about increased traffic from school buses and staff members for the new school in an area that is densely populated.

Michele Deal, who has lived in Mays Chapel North for 15 years, said she doesn't oppose plans for a special-education school or even question how badly it may be needed. But she said the community has no room for a school.

"There is not enough open space for the children in the neighborhood now," she said. "I have nothing against the school. But the kids who live in the area need a place to play."

Deal was among about 250 residents at a meeting Monday night who complained that school officials were short on answers. School officials acknowledged they had limited information, in part because a feasibility study has not been conducted.

That study - which would help determine where a building could be situated on the property and whether new roads would be needed - could begin in as little as two weeks, schools spokeswoman Kara Calder said yesterday.

The property at issue is a 20-acre parcel. The school system owns half, and the county Recreation and Parks Department owns half. Through a joint-use agreement, the school system allows the county to use its portion.

Deal said she is especially worried that school buses and commuting staff members will overwhelm the neighborhood of condominiums, townhouses and single-family homes. She said congestion already poses a daily challenge.

"You take your life into your own hands every time you try to turn onto Padonia Road," she said. "They need to look for an area that's not overpopulated."

Don J. Dent, the school system's executive director of planning and support operations, explained to residents that the district is looking at using the park property because it is land the system owns and its location would minimize the travel time for most students.

"It is not our intent to displace your walking paths or ball fields," said Dent, who added that residents could use the school's playground and fields.

He said that while he couldn't answer all their questions, he was there to hear their concerns. "This is an early stage in the process," he said. "But I can only give you answers that I have."

Deal - who, like many other frustrated residents, left the meeting early - said nothing she heard had eased her concerns.

Sid Caplan, who lives on Falls Road and drives to the park to walk his dog, shared Deal's frustration.

"They had this meeting way too soon. They don't know anything," Caplan said.

Among the questions that Dent said he couldn't answer was whether the school system can legally build a "stand-alone school" designed for a specific population of students. He said it is a question that school officials are researching.

"We have heard the federal government doesn't like to fund stand-alone schools, but we have been operating one [Ridge Ruxton] for a long time," he said. "We're asking to move a special school to another location."

In 1972, the school system acquired property in Mays Chapel. Several years later, the school system agreed to exchange property with the community's developer and in 1986 came to own the site where the park now sits.

Calder said the school system's property is the part of the park that has already been cleared, but that the district would conduct a site survey before starting construction. She said she could not project how soon a school would open, but that construction is typically a three- to five-year process.

As Peggy Fox walked her dog Lulu, a French poodle, along the park's trail yesterday, she said she understands the need for schools, but she opposes any plan that would compromise the park.

"This park is the kind of thing that fosters community," said Fox, who has lived in the area for 40 years. "People meet and walk and talk along this path. We don't want the school's playground. We want this."

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