How a scrubbing helps 2 schools rediscover pride Harlem Park Middle likes its new look

November 15, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

When officials from Education Alternatives Inc. looked over the physical condition of Harlem Park Elementary and Middle schools in the summer, they saw a formidable task ahead.

The two-school complex in West Baltimore, which occupies several blocks just off Harlem Avenue, was in need of major cleanup, particularly the middle school.

Plumbing and toilets throughout that building were virtually "inoperable," according to Bob Parham, project manager for Johnson Controls World Services, the EAI corporate partner in charge of maintaining the schools.

Bathrooms were painted black and reeked. The boiler room had cracked walls and evidence of severe drainage problems. Utility rooms were filthy, infested with vermin.

Graffiti defaced both buildings, inside and out. Trash and broken glass littered the play areas, parking lots and roofs.

By the time school started in late August, much of that had been changed.

The filthy bathrooms had been renovated, the plumbing repaired. Workers had fixed broken windows, planted shrubbery, scoured graffiti from the walls. New paint brightened the interiors, and the floors were buffed. Outside, workers had hauled away piles of broken glass, along with the bodies of dead animals that apparently had been dumped on school grounds by nearby residents.

The goal: to make a place of pride for children and staff.

"My job is to create an environment for learning," says Mr. Parham, who heads the 67-person Johnson Controls staff. "If I can remove physical distractions from the teachers and the students, then they can concentrate."

That whole process has paid off, says the Rev. Norman Handy, pastor of Unity United Methodist Church, which sits across Edmondson Avenue from the Harlem Park complex.

"The grounds have been improved 100 percent, the building has been painted, the windows have been fixed," says Mr. Handy.

He also praises the Johnson Controls workers.

"The staff there who are maintaining the buildings, there's a world of difference in how they respond to the public," Mr. Handy says.

And the students seem to notice. Three months into the school year, the corridors remain generally free of graffiti, the grounds policed daily by the Johnson Controls crew.

Tynika Miller, a student at Harlem Park Middle, praises the cleaner building and other changes that make the school more pleasant to attend.

"I think it's better than it was last year," she says.

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