By Loni Ingraham
"We're gathering momentum," said committee chairman Angelo DelNegro, noting that more than 2,200 people have signed a petition to keep the park a park.
"We have gained the support of a number of influential people and community-based organizations," DelNegro said.
In recent weeks, the committee has received support from the Greater Timonium Community Council, the Falls Road Homeowners' Association, Del. Wade Kach, Sen. Bobby Zirkin, Sen. Larry Haines, Councilman Brian McIntire, the Cockeysville Recreation Council, Baltimore County Recreation Council and numerous Mays Chapel homeowners' associations.
The committee was formed after Mays Chapel residents learned in September that the Baltimore County school system planned to solve the problem of over-crowded elementary schools in Towson by using Mays Chapel park land to build a new school.
The school system owns 10 acres of the park; the county owns the other 10 acres.
The state-of-the-art facility with a capacity of 200 students would serve the 123 students who attend the special needs Ridge Ruxton School, which is now housed in the former Ruxton Elementary School on North Charles Street.
After transferring the Ridge Ruxton students to the Mays Chapel facility, the school system would be able to re-open Ruxton Elementary School.
That would give Towson a fifth elementary school to relieve overcrowding in Rodgers Forge, Stoneleigh, Hampton and Riderwood elementary schools.
But it would give Mays Chapel residents a proverbial headache.
The committee's fight is not with Towson's parents or the Ridge Ruxton School, DelNegro said. It's with the school board.
"To alleviate Towson's problem, they are giving Mays Chapel a problem," he said.
School system officials maintain that building a school on the site would not destroy the park. While they have said the school building would have a four-acre footprint, they have not released information about how much acreage the parking lot, playground and access roads would consume.
They will have this information once a feasibility study that is under way has been completed.
Results of the study should be available sometime this month, according to school system spokeswoman Kara Calder.
"But we'd like to emphasize this is just a study," she said. "A decision would be a long way off."
But the committee claims in light of the fact that the park already hosts six athletic fields, the population density of the area demands that the remaining open space, walking paths, benches and wooded areas be preserved.
DelNegro says there are 2,188 dwellings within a mile of the park, which is just north of Padonia Road and east of Roundhill Road in the densely populated Mays Chapel section of Timonium.
That's 1,692 condominiums, 96 apartments, 192 townhouses, 161 assisted-living or retirement units and 47 nursing home rooms, he said -- not to mention the fact that the number of residents far exceeds those numbers, he said.
The park is a popular place for the many retirees who live in Mays Chapel, as well as for other residents.
"My neighbors and I use this park 12 to 14 hours a day even after daylight saving time," said committee secretary Don Boardman.
The existing traffic problem is compounded by customers of the commercial center anchored by Graul's, as well as visitors and construction workers, DelNegro said.
Since Ridge Ruxton serves the central portion of the county, most of its students are bused to school. Adding nine to 15 school buses a day to the Mays Chapel mix would worsen traffic problems.
Since school officials have stated that the Mays Chapel property is the only site they have considered, the committee has come up with what it calls "cost-efficient and equitable alternatives" on land owned by the county or the school system.
* A 149-acre site at Shawan and Cuba roads.
* The 95-acre Meadowood Park at Greenspring Valley and Falls roads.
* The former 6.6- acre Dulaney Springs Elementary site at Old Bosley and Pot Spring roads.
* The 6-acre former site of Sparks Elementary School.
Better yet, said DelNegro, "Why not build a new elementary school on the 17-acre site of the Ridge Ruxton School on North Charles Street?"
Considering the time it would take to build a new school in Mays Chapel Park and to transform the Ridge Ruxton building into an elementary school, "it would solve the over-crowding problem a lot quicker," he said.
E-mail Loni Ingraham at Loni Ingraham@patuxent.com