County plan calls for Berkshire Elementary to get new building
Wednesday, 21 May 2014 14:44

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s fiscal year 2015 budget allots money for the replacement of Berkshire Elementary School. file photo

County plan calls for Berkshire Elementary to get new building

by Nicole Rodman

From 2010 to 2020, enrollment in Baltimore County public schools is projected to increase by 9,300 students.
    Overcrowding is not the only challenge the schools face; 80 percent of county school buildings  are more than 40 years old.
    In an effort to address both issues, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz unveiled his new “Schools for Our Future” program during his fiscal year 2015 budget presentation last month.
    The $1.1 billion program allocates money for new school construction and renovation over the next 10 years.
    In the budget, Kamenetz outlined two projects that could bring 1,400 new elementary school seats to the Dundalk area.
    The budget includes funding for a “new 700-seat replacement school for Berkshire Elementary on its current site.”
    According to Bryan Sheppard, special assistant to Kamenetz, the new Berkshire Elementary School will be built next to the current school.
    Students will continue to attend classes in the current building as the new school is being built. When the new Berkshire is completed, students will move over to the new building.
    The budget also allocates funding for “a new, 700-seat elementary school in the Battle Grove/Charlesmont communities.”
    The plans for this school, however, are less clear.
    An article that appeared in the April 24 issue of The Eagle included speculation by Del. John Olszewski Jr. that the current Battle Grove and Charlesmont elementary schools might be consolidated into one new school building.
    While that speculation has caused some confusion in the community, Del. Olszewski told The Eagle on Monday that “I have been told that no decision has been made regarding a consolidation of the two schools.
    “There is a need for additional seats in the area, and the school system is preparing to do additional community outreach,” he explained.
    “I have been assured that no decisions will be made until the community has been given an opportunity to provide input, which I believe is the appropriate course of action.”
    Like Del. Olszewski, county and school officials have been quick to assert that no decisions have yet been made regarding plans for the additional 700 seats in the Battle Grove and Charlesmont communities.
    “The county executive, working with the state and county councilman, has allocated money that can go toward 700 additional seats in that area,” Sheppard explained, noting, “There are no final details about the site or plans.”
    “It is way too premature to talk about any specific ideas,” Sheppard cautioned.
    He noted that Kamenetz wanted to make sure the funding was allocated so that the school system can begin planning how best to add the additional 700 seats in the community.
    Details as to whether this would include renovating, replacing or consolidating the two schools or adding a new school to the community have not yet been determined.
    County school officials also noted that details are vague because the process has just begun.
    “At this time, enrollment trends indicate that additional seats may be needed in the southeastern area of the county,” Pete Dixit, the school system’s executive director for physical facilties, told The Eagle.
    “At this point, the current status of these projects is too tentative and preliminary to provide any specific details,” he added.
    According to Mychael Dickerson, chief communications officer for BCPS, the school system is planning on soliciting input from community members on how best to add the additional 700 seats.   
    “Our process has been to come to the community.”
    Dickerson said the  process of gathering community input will likely begin this fall.
    Once the school system has collected community comment, it will present its findings to the county.
    “We’ll go back to the county and say ‘Here’s what we need, here’s what the community needs’,” Dickerson noted.
    Dave Patro, president of the North Point Village Civic Association, has been fielding calls from residents concerned that the potential project could lead to the closure or consolidation of Battle Grove Elementary School.
    For many residents, it is a fear born of the process by which Eastwood Elementary Magnet School was closed last year.
    Patro said he has been in contact with Sheppard, though details on the project remain scarce.
    “From what it looks like, they’re not going to take our school away,” Patro said.
    He added that he does, however, remain concerned about the project’s potential impact on Battle Grove Elementary.
    “If we lose our school, you might as well close up our community,” he said.
    For now, Patro is watching and waiting.
    “It still worries me, but I’ve got my ear to the ground.”