The odor of stale urine is so strong in the bathrooms at Essex Elementary School that the bottoms of the entrance doors have been cut off to let in some fresh air and let out the smell.
Unfortunately, it hasn't worked. On warm days the hallways of the creaky, 67-year-old two-story brick building are filled with the stench, Principal Jean Satterfield said, and even strong chemical cleaners haven't gotten rid of it.
Robin Bierman, a parent and PTA member, said the odor is so obnoxious that, "my son won't go to the bathroom," in school.
The Essex school building is the worst, overall, in Baltimore County, according to Keith D. Kelley, associate county school superintendent for physical facilities.
The main building was constructed in 1925 and additions were built in 1929, 1943 and 1962. But needed renovations have been put off, Mr. Kelley said.
Because of money problems, officials have focused on finding space for students in the fast-growing sections, rather than fixing up the older buildings.
But what really riled parents and teachers was the county Planning Board's March 5 recommendation that the county executive slash two-thirds of the bond money the school department wants for capital projects -- $50,000 of that was slated for a study to determine whether the Essex school should be renovated or razed and rebuilt.
Last night about 40 teachers and parents from Essex Elementary attended County Executive Roger B. Hayden's first budget hearing at Kenwood Senior High School and pleaded with him to restore the money.
Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th, who represents the area, has also asked Mr. Hayden to approve the funds for the study.
After touring the building last week with County Council Chairman William A. Howard, Mr. Gardina said the building was "in deplorable condition."
Mr. Howard, R-6th, said after the tour that he has seen no school building in the county "more poorly maintained than this."
Although major problems can't be fixed easily, Mr. Howard said, simple improvements such as placing deodorizers in the bathrooms can be made cheaply. "There is no excuse for the board [of education] . . . neglecting this building," he said.
Students and teachers at the school have tried to conceal the drabness of the building with colorful banners and art works that lend it an almost carnival-like appearance. But, behind these cheerfully drawn pictures, the school's age shows.
A paint-peeled radiator high on the wall in the second floor stairwell produces so much heat that the second-floor landing is called "The Sauna," and the metal handles on the hallway door sometimes get hot.
Layers of paint, some if it lead-based, are peeling everywhere.
The bottoms of the old masonry doorways and walls are crumbling. There are missing and broken asbestos floor tiles all over the building.
The old room thermostats don't work, so the temperature can't be controlled.
OC And the ancient boiler periodically breaks down. Old pipes from
no-longer-existing hallway water fountains protrude from the walls.
Room 202 has a huge inverted bowl-shaped scar in the ceiling where a persistent water leak has caused ceiling tiles to fall, and the 15-year-old metal replacement windows blow off their tracks on windy days, letting cold drafts through.
Heavy slate blackboards are coming away from their frames, creating a hazard, and the painted-on green "blackboard" surfaces are peeling.
The 5-year-olds don't have clean-up sinks or bathrooms in their rooms, and the school's Chapter I program, the guidance counselor and a faculty work room operate out of converted closets.
The combination gym-auditorium became so oppressively hot during a recent evening event at the school that the doors had to be opened, Ms. Satterfield said. And children have scratched animal shapes from the peeling paint in that room as a form of art.
"Our kids deserve the kind of learning environment available elsewhere in the county." said Ms. Satterfield. That is a view echoed by both the PTA and the parents of the children who attend Essex Elementary School.