NHCA wants new school at Government Center site
Wednesday, 30 January 2013 11:45

Proposal to be introduced at Feb. 11 meeting

by Ben Boehl

    Just about all of the major community organizations in the Dundalk area have weighed in on Baltimore County’s plan to place the North Point Government Center on the open market and the Request for Proposal (RFP) which will require the potential buyers of the land to keep the fields intact and under the operation of Baltimore County’s Department of Recreation and Parks.    
    That plan also requires the potential buyers to provide a new recreational center containing at least 21,000 square feet in a single floor.
    The New Norwood Holabird Community Association (NHCA) will release its own proposal that includes the county building a new state-of-the-art school at the Government Center site, the group’s president told The Eagle this week.
    John Ayers said he believes a new proposal will be needed because he does not think the property will sell by the April 5 deadline set under the RFP.
    The NHCA proposal will be introduced to Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and the community at the association’s annual meeting on Feb. 11 at Squire’s Restaurant.
  

The need for replacement of athletic fields and a new recreation center could be a drawback for potential buyers of the Government Center, but Ayers thinks that the communication tower at the site will be the hardest sell. Ayers said he does not believe that many developers will want that tower, and he noted that moving the tower to another new site will require approval from the Federal Communications Commission.
    “I don’t think the RFP is going to fly. I don’t think any developer is going to want to work around those parameters,” Ayers said.
    Even without the strict RFP, Ayers doubts that commercial developers see any potential in the area. He refers to many of the vacant shopping centers on Merritt Boulevard.
    The Government Center site, located at the intersection of Merritt Boulevard and Wise and Holabird avenues, started off as North Point Junior High School (NPJHS) in 1953, but was later closed in 1980 and became the Government Center in the mid-1980s.
    Other area schools, Ayres noted, are of the same vintage. Bear Creek and Grange elementary schools and Holabird Middle School were built around the same time; Ayers said all of these aging facilities are outdated and need to be replaced.
    With the older buildings and the declining population in the Greater Dundalk area, Ayers believes more Dundalk schools will eventually be closed in the next decade or two by the county.
    The NHCA plan is for the county to tear down the Government Center and build a new state-of-the-art educational facility and to close Norwood, Bear Creek and Grange elementary schools and Gen. John Stricker and Holabird middle schools.
    Ayers said no traffic studies would have to be conducted because the intersection was already home to a school.
    He believes a new K-8 school would provide students with the best technology and resources to help prepare them for the programs at Dundalk & Sollers Point high schools and Patapsco High School and Center for the Arts.
    “Baltimore County will eventually close down these [elementary and middle] schools. Let’s be proactive and present this plan to the county,” Ayers said.
    The NHCA plan would turn Norwood into a site and resource center for local groups like the NHCA and the Patapsco-Neck-Norwood Recreation Council, and Grange would similarly serve the Eastfield-Stanbrook Community Association and the Dundalk-Eastfield Recreation Council.
    Even though Stricker Middle is the youngest of the schools, built in 1963, and the school had renovations done over the past six years, the NHCA proposal would close the school and turn it into the new home of Police Precinct 12.
    “Moving the  police precinct would put it on a major thoroughfare on Trappe Road. This would also allow the extension of Trappe Road to North Point Boulevard,” Ayers said. “Federal grant money could be acquired under the National Historical Preservation Act.”    
    Ayers said since Stricker is on historical land,  grant money could be used to fund a War of 1812 museum inside the school building along with the police station.
    The rest of the NHCA plan calls for the Baltimore County Police Academy to move from its crowded home at CCBC Dundalk to the Holabird  Middle School site and for the Bear Creek land to be sold to developers, since it would be valuable waterfront property.
    The question is if NHCA can get community support. Ayers says unlike the current proposal to consolidate Eastwood Magnet Elementary School into Norwood Elementary and Holabird Middle schools, this project will take five to seven years, so the students in those five schools today wouldn’t be affected by the move.
    Ayers estimates the project will cost around $80 million and believes it can be paid for by some school construction bond issues.
    He also feels there is an opportunity at the state level after Gov. Martin O’Malley’s approved $370 million for school construction funding and upgrades on Jan. 11, but Dundalk will need help from its elected officials.
    “Our elected officials in District 6 need to get some of that money put in a lock box for such a project here in Dundalk,” Ayers said.    
    Terry Godwin, past president and now treasurer of the NHCA, thinks the community will eventually accept the plan because it is in the best interest of Dundalk’s long-term future.
    “It’s going to have to be considered, because it’s going to help the kids,” Godwin said.
    The NHCA had no comment on the future of the Eastwood school since the area is not part of the NHCA’s geography. Ayres said he looks to Eastwood  leaders like Bob Nozeika of the Eastwood Residents and Business Association of Baltimore County and  others in the surrounding community to come up with a plan.
    “[Bob] needs to come together with [community association leaders] David Hyland of Colgate, Georgia Bartrum of Harborview and Bill Neibuhr of Berkshire to come up with their own proposal,” Ayers said.
    Ayers admitted that he was notified by the county before the public announcement of the Government Center sale plan, but is upset over allegations by leaders of other community organizations that NHCA betrayed the community.
    He said that he did know that the Government Center was being placed on the market, but didn’t betray the Dundalk community.
    “The county executive’s office called me two days before the announcement was made. They wanted us to know before it went to public [knowledge], since the schools are in [the NHCA district],” Ayers explained.    
    “I didn’t sell anyone out. [The county] called me so I wouldn’t be blindsided by it and asked me not to report it.”