Drive down most streets in Rodgers Forge, a quaint row house community just north of the city line, and you have to take care not to sideswipe the cars parked bumper to bumper on either side of the street, or the kids darting back and forth, or the adults buckling their infants into car seats.
With no driveways and tiny patches of grass that pass as backyards, the neighborhood’s primary, precious open space is located in the center of the neighborhood at the elementary and middle schools that stand side by side on Dumbarton Road: Rodgers Forge Elementary and Dumbarton Middle School.
Generations of families have been educated in these buildings, played sports on their fields, sledded down their hills, and enjoyed the shade of their big old trees, some which may date back to the 1700s. Now, the Baltimore County Public School system, or BCPS, plans to bulldoze 35 of these trees on the grounds of Dumbarton Middle School as part of $27.5 million addition and renovation project. But the neighborhood isn’t about to stand by and watch it happen without a fight.
Yesterday, a Sunday on the Fourth of July weekend holiday when the school grounds would normally be quiet, a hearty crowd of folks—some holding babies, others held up by walkers—gathered in the shadows of some of these handsome, mature trees for a meeting dubbed ‘Save our Trees’.
Rodgers Forge Community Association President Stu Sirota ran the meeting, along with other concerned and active neighbors. Baltimore County Councilman David Marks and 42nd District Del. Steve Lafferty stood off to the side in a show of support. The meeting’s primary objective was to update community members on the plans of BCPS and, as Sirota said, “To strategize on where we go from here.”
Information disseminated at the meeting may have been new to some community members, but Sirota and others have been working diligently to dig it up since last November. A call from Councilman Marks around Thanksgiving, followed by a revelation of the BCPS plans, put Sirota into motion. “I was shocked when I saw the plans,” he told the crowd on Sunday. He soon grew frustrated.
As soon as he learned of BCPS’ plans, Sirota began to request a meeting with BCPS officials. “It was a monumental task to get them to meet with us,” he said.
Most people familiar with the school agree that the building, opened in 1956, needs renovations including central air conditioning and updates to accommodate modern technology. What many disagree with is the exterior portion of the plan, which includes switching the parking lot from the front of the building to the back.
According to Sirota, BCPS intends to build a “football-sized” parking lot just for buses in the back of the school that would wind around a historical building on the property, the Dumbarton House, a Greek Revival mansion circa 1820 (housing the Baltimore Actors Theatre Conservatory). The lot would also pave over a large portion of an existing attractive green space in the center of the property. The BCPS’ rationale for the new lot, according to Sirota, is to “reduce bus/car conflict.”
“We did our own traffic analysis and saw that conflicts did not exist,” Sirota said.
Sharing that traffic analysis with BCPS officials in the spring, Sirota says the school officials then “shifted their argument,” explaining they might need more space for cars in the long-term. This, despite the fact that only about 10 percent of the students are driven to school. Many walk from nearby neighborhoods; others take the bus.
Sirota offered the audience his own explanation of BCPS’ intended actions: “They’ve been given a big budget. It’s engineering gone wild,” he said.
After bringing the audience up to date on the BCPS plans and his opinion of them, Sirota opened the meeting to questions. Some asked if it was too late to change BCPS’ pending actions. “There’s no bulldozer. It’s not too late. They can always stop what they’re doing,” said Kevin Schwab, a resident of nearby Yorkleigh and youth baseball commissioner for the Towson Recreation Council.
Added Sirota: “There’s an elegant solution to this if BCPS would just work with us.”
This Tuesday, July 8, 2014 at 8:30am, Sirota and his supporters may get their wish. They have a meeting scheduled at Rodgers Forge Elementary with BCPS officials to discuss the plans and plea for compromise. The fate of Rodgers Forge’s historic trees is expected to be decided shortly thereafter.
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