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West Towson Parents Question Future Planning

In the second meeting this week on plans to send some West Towson Elementary students to Ridge Ruxton, parents questioned school officials about future enrollment projections

For each of the 28 steps between and , West Towson principal Susan Hershfeld—who's counted those steps—had at least one question.

More than 100 West Towson and Ridge Ruxton parents attended a meeting Wednesday night in the former's gymnasium on plans to annex next year's West Towson fourth-graders to four classrooms inside adjacent Ridge Ruxton, which serves special needs students up to age 21.

"I think it's the most likely solution, given the situation," said Kristy Knupple, a Gaywood resident and parent of two West Towson students, with a third about to enter kindergarten. "I think it's the best case scenario."

The meeting, markedly more upbeat than , focused not just on the logistics on the proposed move but also on the school system's plans for future overcrowding solutions that would prevent having to do so again.

West Towson, which opened in 2010 with a state-rated capacity of 451 students, now serves 519 students and is projected to hit 591 by next fall. Options for school officials are limited—trailers cannot be placed on the property and other nearby schools, including and elementary schools, are also overcrowded.

Hershfeld began the meeting by revisiting the plans discussed Monday. West Towson would move fourth-graders into three current classrooms on the east wing of Ridge Ruxton, and a fourth that will be created by removing a partition between two offices.

All students moved there will have lockers near their classrooms. A storage area will turn into a new set of bathrooms. A set of doors will separate the two populations. Students would return to West Towson for special periods, lunch, nurse visits and other activities.

"They're not leaving West Towson," Hershfeld said. "They're still Westies, in every sense of the term 'Westies.'"

Parents at Ridge Ruxton that the annexing will cause undue stress on programs there. Principal Ed Bennett said at the Wednesday meeting he plans to meet again with parents to address questions about the proposal.

Hershfeld stressed that the plan was not final. The administrators' proposal will be presented to Superintendent Joe Hairston sometime in the next couple of weeks.

"Your input matters," Hershfeld told the parents.

Hershfeld said the annex solution would work for the next two school years. But by that time, according to Kara Calder, the executive director of planning and support services for Baltimore County Public Schools, the system hopes to have a new elementary school in the Mays Chapel area, which would be followed by redistricting in the York Road corridor. Meanwhile, work is in progress on an and due to

Fourth-graders were chosen because school leaders felt older students could better handle the move and because fifth-graders have instrumental music, which would have created added disruptions by students going from one building to the other.

So what's next?

Many parents who submitted questions asked about the quality of the system's projections and why the school system did not plan for more students.

"My frustration with this process is that we continue to put a Band-Aid on the same problem that's been going on year after year," said Sue Corona, a parent of three West Towson students. "We have great leaders and great principals and they will deal with it, but why do we continually have to deal with it? Let's fix the problem."

Calder said that West Towson was originally built for 451 students because that was the number that county and state projections showed was needed at the time. It wasn't built larger due to safety and evacuation concerns.

"Everyone was in agreement of our projection numbers when the shovels went in the dirt here," Calder said.

She attributed the influx of new students to residents moving into Towson shortly after the new school opened in 2010 or taking children out of private school to take advantage of West Towson and Rodgers Forge.

Cathi Forbes, president of parents group Towson Families United, said she had "some sympathy" for the impact of that rush on the system's enrollment projections, but worries what will happen in middle and high schools in coming years.

Another potential solution for elementary overcrowding, building a new special-needs school at Mays Chapel instead of a new elementary school and taking over the current Ridge Ruxton entirely, was ruled out by state rulings against funding a new public special education day school, Calder said.

Parents also suggested that the county take a more creative approach, including possibly moving out of what was once Towson Elementary School.

"It's certainly something that we can continue to talk to the county about," Calder says. "We really do look at many, many options."

Greenwood not an option

Some Patch commenters suggested in response to Monday's article that the school system should demolish or repurpose buildings at the on the other side of North Charles Street.

Calder said, in response to a submitted question, that the Greenwood mansion there is on Baltimore County Landmarks List and that environmental concerns, including the area's flood plain, also preclude building an elementary school on the site.

"We did think about it and we did look into it," Calder said.

johnny towson February 02, 2012 at 04:19 PM
Elizabeth, you are correct and I will expand on my suggestion. I have no intention of terminating the services and resources provided by BYKOTA. I should more carefully state that the building BYKOTA currently uses should be considered for an alternative use, such as a school, once it is publicly confirmed that the BYKOTA operations and services could be better deployed in another location. The building itself "works" for BYKOTA but it is terribly inefficient under it current use. An alternative location and facility for BYKOTA could better serve its users and the county's budget. There are simple and readily available alternatives, that are cost effective, currently sitting idle in the community. Thanks again Elizabeth for causing pause and explanation.
Barb Cirelli February 02, 2012 at 04:44 PM
I am a Ridge Ruxton parent, and this proposal makes me a little angry and sad. First our campus is taken and now part of our school. Our building serves as our pre-school, our elementary, our middle and our high school for our children. Now we're going to be squeezed more tightly together, and our kids take up a lot of space! Many of our students are tube-fed, diaper-dependent and wheel-chair bound. We use our classroom space as life-skill areas, where our kids can learn how to make beds, do laundry and light cooking. Many of our students use our hallways to practice walking independently. We also have a health suite where many of our kids need to go for medicine during the day, and we need space for our OT and PT and the list goes on and on. Many of our kids have autism, and their everyday routines will be disrupted. As every parent of a disabled kid knows, sometimes a familiar routine is the only thing that can comfort our kids when they're out of sorts. My daughter looks to Ridge Ruxton School as her second home - a place where she can feel safe and confident. I don't want to see her lose part of it.
Josh Glikin February 02, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Elizabeth, no one's proposing to shut down that center and not replace it. The YMCA is begging for the county to buy some land that it's reserved specifically for the county (the county backed out of a deal to purchase it to erect some fields). How perfect would it be to build a new senior center there, with all of those new facilities right next door -- new pool, exercise equipment, etc.? And it would help out the Y. Or, the BCPS & County could agree to build it on a part of the Mays Chapel land, or put it somewhere close by, but where it's not occupying a walkable, former elementary school with ball fields and a playground, smack in the middle of the most overcrowded school district.
David Taylor February 02, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Regarding the Greenwood and BYKOTA options - I'm under the impression that not only are there major hurdles for re-purposing Greenwood, but that there may even be covenant/agreements that it not be used as a school (I can't find the docs on that, sorry), plus there's the practical matter that the property is mostly a hill... I agree with the sentiment, but is it practical? With the BYKOTA center, the old Towson Elementary - when was that last a school, 30 years ago? And the building itself was first used as a school in 1925 - 85 years ago... Wow. I can't imagine what the costs would be for updating a building like that to fit the needs of a modern classroom. Maybe I shouldn't have to imagine, someone should throw a serious estimate out there on that. And I agree with the Ridge Ruxton parents that the school shouldn't be disrupted or the facilities reduced. I have 2 kids on IEP and we even looked at RR for placement for one them... I get that you can't just squeeze more kids in per room. I want RR parents and WTES parents to push together for a solution from MSDE and the county which won't impact RR (further).
JDStuts February 02, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Greenwood is extremely doable for new construction. Most people are confused by the plot but its value is on the backside. This is missed looking at it from Charles Street. Any design firm worth their salt could place a new school on that plat - no problem. See johnny towson's first comment. Even if you wanted to build on Charles you only need to examine Loyola University's new stadium for the latest example of dealing with sloping grades. Towson Elementary's current structure probably isn't adaptable but its location is A++. That would be more of a Carver situation where you tear down and build new. The value added is the existing playing fields remaining from its original purpose. For both, again, the issue isn't current use or designations - it is a lack of leadership, vision and will.

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