Board votes for new school

Towson-area elementary would open by fall of 2010

May 07, 2008|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun reporter

After months of community pressure to ease crowding in Towson-area elementary schools, the Baltimore County school board voted last night to recommend construction of a separate school that would open by the fall of 2010.

The board's decision came just weeks after the panel's members ordered a study to determine all its options, including additions to schools in the area and construction of a new school. The building recommended last night would be designed to accommodate at least 400 students, most of whom would come from Rodgers Forge Elementary, and would be on the grounds of Ridge Ruxton School. Ridge Ruxton, which serves severely disabled children, will remain open.

After the vote, an overflow crowd of parents erupted in applause.

"A new elementary school in Towson is the right solution to a difficult problem," Cathi Forbes, chairwoman of Towson Families United and mother of a Rodgers Forge kindergartner, told the board during public comments later. The grass-roots group formed this year to push for a solution to the crowding.

She thanked the school board "for putting the needs of Baltimore County's children first."

The next step includes conducting a feasibility study, a more in-depth examination of the site.

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. recently budgeted $18 million to deal with overcrowding in the Towson area.

"He is very encouraged by what seems to be a promising solution," Ellen Kobler, a spokeswoman for Smith, said in a phone interview shortly after the school board's action. "We'll need to take a look at all the details and the numbers."

Rodger C. Janssen, the only member to vote against the recommendation, said he was concerned that all potential obstacles had not been addressed. He noted that a feasibility study has not been done, and that unforeseen problems with the site might surface.

The project is on a "fast track," with the goal of starting construction in summer 2009 and opening by fall 2010.

Based on the school's system enrollment data as of September 2007, four Towson elementary schools - Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh, Riderwood and Hampton - are a total of 451 students over capacity. That number is expected to nearly double in the coming years if the school system doesn't soon fix the problem.

Last night, the school board reviewed several options laid out in a recent "site assessment," which was designed to evaluate "development opportunities" for six elementary schools that serve the Towson area. The two additional schools are Cromwell Valley Elementary, a regional magnet school on Providence Road, and Ridge Ruxton, a school for special-education students on Charles Street - both of which draw students from beyond Towson.

If the county executive supports the board's recommendation, a more thorough feasibility study would be needed before construction begins.

The site assessment laid out several options, ranking them by "degree of difficulty/comparative cost," and including advantages and disadvantages of each. But the report makes no recommendation.

The report's overall finding is that "it appears possible to increase capacity at each site through reasonably-sized additions and renovations."

"It also appears possible to create an additional school on the Ridge Ruxton campus, independent of the existing building," the report states.

Design Collective, the firm that conducted the site assessment, was instructed not to consider additions to Ridge Ruxton. Instead, the firm was told to explore only the possibility of construction of a separate building on the nearly 17-acre property.

The idea of building an addition at Ridge Ruxton for regular-education students has long been supported by the county executive. But that proposal has drawn sharp criticism, especially from Ridge Ruxton parents - two of whom have filed federal complaints and are considering a lawsuit. They said they believe that their children, who are "medically fragile," will have their educational rights compromised if they are forced to attend school with regular students.

The site assessment spells out three options for building at the Ridge Ruxton site, including constructing a 21/2-story building on the northwest corner of the property to accommodate 400 to 500 students. This option would not affect the Ridge Ruxton's current students, the report states.

Another option involves constructing a smaller one-story school on the property for up to 150 students and moving the current Ridge Ruxton children to that building. Under this option, school officials would then be able to use the larger, 400-student-capacity Ridge Ruxton for regular students.

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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