The school next door

By: Tim Klapac, Senior Editor

University administrators have taken steps to satisfy residents of Towson. Construction happening both on campus and Uptown, an expected increase in enrollment, and more projects on the horizon create a balancing act for the university.

“We are 329-acre campus in the middle of a suburban area, surrounded by neighborhoods and a vibrant community,” said Katie Maloney, TU’s Executive Director of Government and Community Relations. “It’s important for us to be outward facing, to open our campus to the neighborhoods and making sure we are good neighbors.”

One of the ways Towson is working toward being good neighbors is the free ‘Movie Nights’ that were held at Johnny Unitas Stadium twice over the summer. The Stadium track was opened to the public to sit down and enjoy a movie on the video board while food and beverages were offered and donations of school supplies were being accepted. Attendees got to see ‘Spiderman: Into the Spider verse’ on July 20 and the live-action ‘Aladdin’ on Aug. 17.

Maloney said that the university also provides a grant to the Baltimore County Police Department to enhance the patrols on weekends during the fall and spring semesters. The late night shuttles from downtown back to campus are another example of TU’s commitment to the Towson community.

“We are very committed and [President Schatzel] is committed,” Maloney said.

One of the eight priorities TU President Kim Schatzel outlined when she arrived was ‘BTU, Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore.’ The University’s Strategic Plan stresses how TU is “dedicated to continue to empower our campus and our greater community to make choices for lifelong well-being and effective stewardship of our natural resources.”

“When I came here, one of the priorities that I had was that we really want to be good neighbors,” said Schatzel. “The more that we can act as an anchor institution and really be an asset to both this community as well as Greater Baltimore, that’s what the intention is to do.”

Students are certainly aware of the construction around campus, but the changes being made to Uptown have brought the residents into the equation. With private projects that include Towson Row, 101 York and Towson Station, locals have had to deal with the same issues students have experienced on-campus.

“As far as the building that’s going on, we’re a little concerned,” said Karen Nuttle, a resident who lives near the Towsontown Garage. “As far as the concerns, it’s just where is the traffic going? Because Towson University still has a lot of students that commute.”

As the construction in Uptown creates traffic concerns, residents can become frustrated. However, TU has taken strides to connect with residents in order to hear those concerns and address them.

“[TU] is getting really big, and again, there’s a little concern, but the university does cooperate with us,” said Nuttle. “When we have our community meetings, somebody [from the university] does show up and we voice our concerns.” 

The meetings Nuttle is referring to are held by the University Relations Committee once a month during the school year. In these meetings, residents can voice their concerns to a TU representative.

“I think the relationship is strong because the University Relations Committee deals with issues every month school is in session, and because the President’s office engages key stakeholders in the community,” said David Marks, county councilman for the Towson  neighborhoods.

Maloney stressed that the university is taking every measure possible to ensure the changes being made to Uptown are smooth for residents.

“Anytime you have growth, you have growing pains,” she said. “We make sure we’re not starting [construction] too early in the morning or late at night, making sure we’re sensitive to traffic, [minimizing] any traffic that would occur. Some of it is unavoidable, but our neighbors have been fantastic and understanding. They’ve seen growth in the core and they’ve felt it as positive.”

When incidents do occur as a result of the construction, Marks said that they have been small-scale and have been handled

“We’d had issues with contractors parking illegally in neighborhoods that we’ve had to deal with, but these are all short-term nuisances,” he said.

Nuttle says she has had positive experiences with students living in her neighborhood and while she hears about parties that are thrown, she hears more about the positive measures taken by students to maintain a positive atmosphere in the neighborhoods.

“Right now it seems like the students that are here are very committed, and those are the students that we want here,” she said. “Once in a while, I hear about Rodgers Forge having a big party where things got out of hand, and the police had to be called. I’ve heard about it, but I’ve also heard about whenever we have a big snowstorm, all the Towson U [students] that live there get out and shovel the community.”

Improvements in the neighborhoods can be attributed to the Social Host Ordinance passed by the Baltimore County Council in 2016, which levied stricter penalties on parties in the Towson neighborhoods. Since the ordinance passed, the number of complaints has dropped from more than 50, to less than 15.

Amendments have been made to the ordinance to better improve the communities, including having violators perform community service in the community in which the violation occurred.

“I don’t want to unnecessarily penalize students, but I want them to be good neighbors,” Marks said.

The social ordinance isn’t about simply punishing students that misbehave, it is about building a strong relationship between the neighborhoods and Towson University, something that can be hard for colleges to do.

The university has plans to continue engaging with the Towson community as the campus grows year after year. The new science building is one example of TU’s ongoing community efforts.

“The whole back of the building was deliberately built into the Glen [Arboretum] so there is an open classroom,” Maloney said. “We hope to make it available to community groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, to provide hands-on learning in a living classroom concept.”

Service efforts by the university, including ‘Town and Gown,’ a day of service in October sponsored by the SGA, where students assist local homeowners and businesses by cleaning up Uptown Towson, and ‘The Big Event,’ TU’s largest day of community service,are examples of how students, faculty, staff and alumni give back to their community. This year’s ‘Town and Gown’ takes place on Oct. 26. and ‘The Big Event’ is slated for April 25, 2020.

The Towson community also holds service events that students can participate in. Marks referenced the ‘Towsontown Spring Festival’ and road and stream claunups organized by the Towson Chamber of Commerce and the Towson Communities Alliance as examples.

As the university’s growth continues, Nuttle is excited for what she feels is an overdue boost to the community.

“I’m glad to see another big public university in our state because we really did need it and [the university] was not [large] when I was here,” she said.

– Meghan Hudson contributed to this article.

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