Residents debate police station move
Wednesday, 23 January 2013 14:02

Bryan Sheppard, special assistant to the county executive, fielded questions from angry parents and community residents.photo by Ben Boehl

by Ben Boehl

Ever since a plan was announced  to consolidate Eastwood Magnet Elementary School into Norway Elementary and Holabird Middle schools, while placing the North Point Government Center on the open market and moving the police precinct into the Eastwood school building, there has been strong opposition.
    The confrontation between opposition groups and the county has been on display during a series of public meetings throughout the Dundalk area.
    The “confrontation tour” visited the Eastwood Residents and Business Association of Baltimore County (ERBABC) for its annual meeting.    
    ERBABC leader Bob Nozeika invited Bryan Sheppard, special assistant to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, to speak with concerned residents. Eastwood residents in attendance were joined by many parents of students attending the school.
    Before the meeting started, Sheppard stated he could only discuss the county’s involvement with the North Point Government Center sale proposal and the possible move of the police station to the Eastwood site.
    “I can’t talk about the school consolidation. That is something the school system is handling. I’m not familiar about the school closing,” Sheppard said.
    Many parents didn’t buy that argument, saying that the sale of the North Point Government Center and the closure of the school are part of the same process. 
    Sheppard explained that the Baltimore County Government asked Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) about cutting costs. BCPS responded with the current proposal of consolidating Eastwood into Norwood and Holabird because Holabird is under capacity.
    Sheppard continued to explain that once the idea of moving the Eastwood magnet program to Norwood and Holabird was considered the Eastwood school building became available. Then the county pursued the idea of relocating the North Point Police Precinct 12 to that building.
    One parent asked Sheppard if the county has jurisdiction over BCPS. He answered that the school system is its own entity.
    Nozeika told the crowd that he has had battles with the county Board of Education and believes they will not budge on their decisions.
    “If you have ever dealt with the Board of Education like I have, you know they are going to do what they want,”  Nozeika said.
    On the issue of the Government Center, a resident asked if the county was going to sell it to a developer for retail or industrial.
    “Our goal is we are looking for commercial development and not industrial, but it is not specified in the RFP,” Sheppard said.    
    With the aging Government Center needing repairs,  Sheppard compared the Government Center situation to the decision to rebuild Dundalk and Sollers Point High Schools, in which it was probably less costly to build a new facility than  to repair the building.
    One parent asked if a new facility will be ready for service before the old building is torn down.
    “That’s the goal,” Sheppard answered. “If we don’t get what we want to accomplish, we aren’t moving forward.”
    Sheppard addressed the rumors that a helicopter port is coming to the Eastwood site along with the police station and that the Eastwood move might only be a temporary one.
    Sheppard said he is unaware of a helicopter port and believes the police station will remain at the Eastwood site for the foreseeable future.
    That led ERBABC secretary Jim White to question why the county would go from one aging school building  to another.
    “This isn’t damn much better than what we have now,” White said.
    According to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records, the Eastwood school was built in 1964, while the Government Center (formerly North Point Junior High) was built in 1953.
    A potential decline in property values is another concern among Eastwood residents. A real estate agent at the meeting said it will be hard to sell a home with the commotion of a police station.
    Sheppard responded there was concern in the Towson area when the Baltimore County Department of Corrections expanded the jail located near Bosley and Kenilworth avenues, but Sheppard stated nearby property values did not decrease.
    While some residents don’t want the police station, there is worry about what might happen if the Eastwood school closes but the police station remains at the Government Center if no sale is completed.
    Nozeika is worried that other organizations such as a drug rehabilitation center could move into the school building.
    “What happens to this building if they don’t sell the police station and this school closes? What happens to this building?” Nozeika asked Sheppard, who didn’t have an answer.
    The meeting left many parents and residents of the Eastwood community with unanswered questions. Sheppard said the county will have a better idea of the process after the April 4 deadline for bids on the Government Center site has passed to see what, if any, bids have been made on the site.
    “The hardest part of coming to a meeting is to give you an (idea) of what’s going to happen,” Sheppard explained. “We honestly don’t know.”