Students get civics lesson in fight for schoolhouse Preservation plan may have to wait

April 12, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

The most noteworthy civics lesson several Hammond Middle School students have learned is this: Government moves slowly.

Really slowly -- ages and centuries, it seems, to three frustrated youngsters who've been working for more than a year to give Pfeiffer's Corner Schoolhouse a home.

This year, sixth-graders Bonnie Richard, Meghan Bailey and Stephanie McLean have taken the torch passed on by their predecessors, who took the road to Annapolis five years ago to lobby before the General Assembly to save the school from demolition. State lawmakers earmarked $100,000 this year to restore the schoolhouse, but county officials say that they cannot afford to begin the project.

The historic wood-frame building is believed to be the only standing one-room school in Howard County.

It is slated for preservation as part of a 900-acre nature park, which will include a separate environmental science center and hiking trails at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area. The state's $100,000 is supposed to be matched by the county.

The three girls have completed a letter-writing campaign to County Council members, state senators and state delegates, who've all replied with polite letters and photocopies of explanations from the Department of Recreation and Parks, the office that oversees the project.

But officials say Howard County simply can't afford it and the plan may have to wait.

A memo sent to the students last month from Jeffrey A. Bourne, director of recreation and parks, said there appears to be no money in the immediate future to "staff, operate, maintain or program the nature center facility envisioned" for the schoolhouse.

In the meantime, he wrote, the county would continue "mothballing" efforts to preserve the schoolhouse and go forward with design plans for future construction.

The girls' goal: To make as much noise as possible.

"The county has pretty much forgotten the schoolhouse," said 11-year-old Bonnie.

"It said it was going to do something, but it didn't," complained 12-year-old Meghan.

The first students, now high-schoolers, raised $16,500 with help from more than 200 groups and individuals as well as more than 1,000 elementary and middle school students who pitched in money for a "50 cents for Pfeiffer" campaign.

The money went to moving the schoolhouse from near the Route 108 and Montgomery Road intersection, where a new housing development was being built.

Teacher Patricia Greenwald used some of the remaining money to buy an antique schoolmaster's desk as well as turn-of-the-century textbooks to fill the school once it opens.

The dilapidated building now sits on a dirt path along Route 108 near Linden Chapel Road, bounded by a barbed-wire fence, held up on concrete blocks and shielded by a big blue sheet on the school's west wing, where siding has fallen off.

The winter seemed to have taken its toll on the school, Mrs. Greenwald said. "It was really sad in January," she said. "Rain was blowing right in. The door was open. Siding had fallen off. It was totally exposed to the weather."

Mrs. Greenwald says she's embarrassed every time people who donated money call and ask about the progress. She says she has no answers.

Recreation and parks officials sympathize with the students.

"Especially for a youngster in school, it does seem like a very long time before it happens," said Clara Gouin, the county parks planner. "I'm glad the students are still interested in it. We're doing the best to get the land and get the school in place. Hopefully, it won't be too long until the school is moved."

Students aren't satisfied. "The schoolhouse is sitting there rotting," said 11-year-old Stephanie, who asks residents to protest by writing to county and elected officials.

Mrs. Greenwald said she is open to moving the schoolhouse project to another location, or starting up a citizens' committee to get the job done herself. "We don't want to make trouble for the county," she said. "It's just that if we don't do something now, the school is going to be lost."

Those interested in contributing to the preservation effort may call Hammond Middle School at 725-0100.

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