Ease school crowding, parents urging board

Mays Chapel facility would help Towson area

November 08, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun reporter

The signs of overcrowding are abundant at Rodgers Forge Elementary School, says Alyson Bonavoglia.

Lunch starts two hours into the school day. Toilets often overflow from overuse. And seven trailers are scattered about the campus.

"And people are still moving into the area," Bonavoglia said.

Bonavoglia was among more than 100 Rodgers Forge Elementary parents who pleaded with Baltimore County school board members during a meeting last month to stick with a proposal to build a school in the Mays Chapel area to ease crowding in the Towson area.

"We needed this school probably two years ago," said Bonavoglia, who has two children - first-grader David, 6, and fifth-grader Ilona, 10 - at Rodgers Forge, where 625 students are enrolled this year, the same number that is projected for 2016 in a school system report. The school's capacity is 408, according to school system records.

Enrollment figures are calculated as of Sept. 30 each school year, information that school officials use to help develop the district's 10-year projections.

School officials are considering building a school in Mays Chapel, a community along West Padonia Road near Interstate 83 in Timonium, to help alleviate crowding in the Towson area. They said that would allow them to transfer all students from Ridge Ruxton School, which has 123 special-education students and 90 staff members. That would free classroom space for children in the Towson area.

The Mays Chapel property is centrally located for the students it serves in an area that stretches from Pikesville to Parkville and from Baltimore to the Pennsylvania line, said Don Dent, the district's executive director of planning and support operations.

"Overall, we think it's a good proposal," said Dent, who added that many schools were closed during enrollment declines of the 1980s. "Things are changing. The enrollment has come back."

Other Towson-area elementary schools have more students this year than they were built to accommodate. Stoneleigh, which has a capacity of 499 children, has 623 students. Hampton, with a capacity of 307, has 377 students. And Riderwood, which was built for 501 students, has 513.

"The need is real," Mike Ertel, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, told school board members. "There are 3,000 housing units being proposed, with another 900 being built now, with BRAC [the military base realignment] on the way. We're going to start seeing more children, and that's all the more reason to deal with this school issue."

The Mays Chapel school would be built on land that serves as a park, with walking trails and ball fields. Mays Chapel residents - about 300 of whom recently attended a community meeting with school officials - say the property, which the school system has owned since the 1970s, should remain a park. In addition to maintaining the park for environmental reasons, residents say they worry about increased traffic from school buses and staff members in the densely populated area.

"You don't destroy a park in order to build a school," Angelo DelNegro, president of the Save Mays Chapel committee, wrote in a recent e-mail news release. "We are committed to saving the park and finding a suitable home for the school. The school board needs to do their homework."

But Towson-area parents say that the proposed Mays Chapel school would take up only 4 acres of the 20-acre parcel, which would leave room for a park.

Dent, who met with the Mays Chapel residents, said he could not confirm how much space the school would need until a feasibility study is done. He said that study should be finished by late November, and he hopes to have updated information to share with residents in both communities by early next month.

"We thought this proposal was a win-win for the school system and the communities," Dent said. "The intent has never been to destroy the park at Mays Chapel. Parks and schools co- exist all over the county."


Crowded schools

Enrolled Enrolled School

(9/30/06) (9/30/07) Capacity

Hampton 362 377 307

Riderwood 473 513 501

Rodgers Forge 536 625 408

Stoneleigh 604 623 499

[Source: Baltimore County Public Schools]

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