For 2nd time, contractor tardy in finishing school

December 09, 1993|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

Attention-grabbing yellow fliers sent home with students yesterday informed Runnymede Elementary School parents that their new school is not going to be ready by Jan. 5.

"I'm not the least bit surprised," said Andrea Gill of Taneytown. "I don't think most people will be."

This is the second time the school's opening has been delayed. It was supposed to open in September.

Ms. Gill said she is trying to keep a positive attitude so that her son and four day care charges who attend the school will make the adjustment well, whenever it happens.

"To me, I don't care if they go Jan. 5 or Feb. 5, as long as that is where they are left," she said, referring to the possibility that some Taneytown students might transfer back to Taneytown Elementary School in two years when that school is expanded.

Construction delays since late November mean that Vernon Smith, director of support services for the Carroll County school system, can't count on having the Runnymede building ready by Jan. 5.

Mr. Smith said he gave himself until just before the Board of Education's monthly meeting yesterday to decide. He announced the delay at that meeting.

Although the contractor might finish the building by the end of December, Mr. Smith said, he can't count on that enough to set a January occupancy date. He will set a date after the winter break, he said.

Whenever the school opens, Superintendent R. Edward Shilling will seek a waiver from the state so that students can be out of class for three days while teachers move and set up in the new building. He said he would have sought the waiver regardless of the opening date.

In the meantime, the 582 students and 55 staff members who are scheduled to move to Runnymede will remain in the old Taneytown Elementary School building, where they started in September. Taneytown students attend classes in portable buildings at Northwest Middle School, where they will stay while their school is renovated, even after the Runnymede students move to their new building.

Notices went home to Runnymede parents yesterday. The top of the sheet had four smiling faces flanking one frowning face.

"We've heard rumors all along that they wouldn't be ready," said Kathleen Whitcomb of Taneytown. She said she would favor waiting until September to move the students, even if the latest delay is only for one month.

"You hate to disrupt the school year," Ms. Whitcomb said.

Principal Barbara Walker said she and others at the school are ea

ger to move into the new building but that the decision to delay the move had to be made.

"It's not something we have an opinion about," she said. "It's just something we have to make a decision about."

She said the new building will offer more space, better technology and accessibility for the handicapped.

Until mid-November, Mr. Smith said, he had been confident that the school would open Jan. 5. Later that month, he said, the contractor reported delays, especially with the school's wastewater treatment plant, which the county will operate. Among the problems causing the delays were the heavy rains in November.

Mr. Smith said the Carroll County Health Department won't approve opening the school until the treatment plant is working.

"If you can't run the water, you're not going to have a building that's safe for students," Mrs. Walker said. "It was the best decision that could be made at the time."

Mr. Smith said yesterday, "We need to give people ample warning that we are [not] going to occupy the building, but I do not want to establish an occupancy date today."

The school originally was to have opened in September. In May, however, school officials announced that heavy snow in March and other factors caused a construction delay that would delay the opening until November. To provide a safe margin, school officials decided to move the children in after the winter break.

As it turned out, the margin wasn't wide enough.

Last spring, after the first delay, some parents expressed frustration to school officials that they could not exert more pressure on the contractor.

Mr. Smith said there are contractual protections for the system if it can prove that the delays led to actual costs, but that doing so is difficult. He recalls only one such case, a few years ago, when some portable classrooms were delivered two months late.

"Inconvenience does not count," he said. "We're optimistic the contractor will pull out all the stops."

Mr. Smith said crews are working overtime at no additional cost to the schools.

"The contractor says he can finish it by the end of December," Mr. Smith said. "If that's the case, we would need about three weeks for cleanup and to get ready so we don't have the contractor going out the front door and the kids coming in the back door."

He added, however, that the contractor previously had said he would finish by Dec. 1. Before that, he had said Nov. 1. And before that, the school was supposed to be completed in August.

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