Howard pupils' lobbying victory turns frustrating

November 13, 1990|By Robert A. Erlandson

Last March, Hammond Middle School students had a real-life civics lesson when Howard County Executive Elizabeth Bobo joined them to lobby the General Assembly for $100,000 toward restoring a 19th-century, one-room school.

The students had raised $16,500 in the community and from other schools to rescue Pfeiffer's Corner School from demolition and move the building to a temporary site on Route 108 in May 1989. The big money was for restoration at a permanent location.

Those young people have since moved on to high school, but their successors at Hammond Middle who have taken over the project think they are also getting a civics lesson about the ponderous pace of bureaucracy.

The students have reached a harsh verdict on the government's performance since that heady day in Annapolis last March: It is stalling.

Not so, said Grace Kubofcik, a Bobo aide, and Jeffrey A. Bourne, director of parks and recreation, who denied any stalling and said the project was following procedures.

The students' expectations simply are too high, Ms. Kubofcik said. "Adults have got to tell the students the facts," she said -- among them, that the schoolhouse restoration is not a top priority at the moment.

"The temporary move was just that. We are in the process of negotiating for the land. Those things don't happen instantaneously," Ms. Kubofcik said.

Last month, the seventh-graders wrote to public officials and other citizens expressing their concern that while the bureaucrats talk, the building deteriorates -- and winter is coming.

"Last year $100,000 was appropriated from the state to be matched by $100,000 from the county (which Mrs. Bobo had already budgeted). So far nothing has been done to restore the schoolhouse. We do not want to let the people down who gave money for the restoration," the students wrote.

As their concerns continued, the students drafted a second letter for release to the news media but withheld it. In that letter they wrote: "The public has also been inquiring why nothing has been done."

"They're stalling," charged Kelly Shaffery, 12, of Laurel. "The county doesn't know what it wants."

"It seems they don't care whether it stands or falls. It would be neat to see a restored 19th-century school," said Missy Souder, 12, also from Laurel.

"They should get to work. It might fall down under snow this winter," said Lesley Glenn, 12, of Scaggsville.

Sarah Robinson, 12, of Scaggsville thinks she has even a bigger stake in the project than her friends. Her brother, Will, was in the class that began the restoration campaign, and she watched him testify before the legislators.

"I think they're moving too slowly," she said. "The kids put in a lot of hard work."

Meanwhile, the 1 1/2 -story clapboard building sits forlornly on concrete blocks behind a 10-foot, chain-link fence topped by three strands of barbed wire. A few windows are covered with plywood, but others are broken and open to the elements. There is a gaping hole in one side where the siding has broken away.

The school cannot be relocated until the county and a Rouse Co. subsidiary complete the deal to turn the 1,200 acres of wilderness parkland where the schoolhouse now sits over to the county for the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area.

The talks are at the "detail level" and should be concluded by winter, said Mr. Bourne, the parks director.

Once that is concluded, he said, the park's master plan consultant will "break away" to focus on a permanent location on the property for the schoolhouse. But it will be at least another year -- "and that's optimistic" -- before the restoration can begin, he said.

Upon its restoration, the Pfeiffer's Corner Schoolhouse is envisioned as the educational center for the park.

Believed to have been built shortly after the Civil War, the building was abandoned as a school in the 1930s. It was sold for $500 and used as a dwelling until 1987.

Delegate Virginia M. Thomas, D-Howard, a supporter of the restoration project, said she asked about the delay after students complained to her.

"The kids are getting disappointed," she said. "Everybody will be upset if anything happens to the school, after all the work the kids did."

"We're getting close to winter, that's what's worrying me and the kids," Ms. Thomas said. "It should be protected."

Mr. Bourne said workers would be assigned next month to secure the windows and other sections until the final move and restoration.

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