Emmorton will be ready by Sept. 7, officials say

March 27, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

Rainy fall weather and the worst winter in recent memory have put Emmorton Elementary School 47 days behind schedule. The school was to have been completed Aug. 1.

"We're not panicking yet," said Joseph Licata, the Harford County school system's construction chief. He said the general contractor, H. A. Harris of Baltimore, has promised to make up the lost days by working evenings and weekends.

And Mr. Licata said he feels confident that the school will be ready by Sept. 7, the first day of school for students.

"The contractor has assured us he will have the classrooms and hallways and bathrooms and administrative offices open when school opens," he said. Mr. Licata said the gym, cafeteria, kitchen and media center might not be finished.

Donald R. Morrison, school spokesman, said that he is very pleased with the contractor's work and that the delays are primarily weather-related. He said the school system has frequently opened schools that were not finished.

"Riverside Elementary in Joppa, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last month, opened without classroom doors or a finished cafeteria," he said. "This is not a new problem."

Mr. Licata said the delays, including the problems at Emmorton Elementary, are not the fault of the school system.

"There are so many factors we have no control over, like the weather," he said.

Mr. Licata said the county is responsible for one problem at Emmorton because it has not been able to compel a different contractor to extend Tollgate Road from the Country Walk neighborhood across Wheel Road to Route 24.

The school will occupy land on both Tollgate and Wheel roads. Because Tollgate Road has not been extended, construction crews must use a temporary dirt road that rain and snow have turned into a muddy slough, making it difficult to get construction equipment in.

Mr. Licata said the school system has little control over the contractors its hires because "it's a state law that we must accept the lowest bid."

That may have contributed to two school delays last year.

Fallston Middle School opened two weeks late because of problems that kept the 900-student school from passing a critical fire inspection safety test. Education officials blame the contractor, Hanover-based Triangle General Contractors Inc. Triangle, which insisted that the school would open on time until about a week before the start of school, has denied responsibility.

And the opening of Church Creek Elementary in Belcamp was delayed a year because the contractor, Peter J. Scarpulla Inc. of Baltimore, could not continue because of "financial difficulties." Harris, the company that is building Emmorton Elementary, took over the Church Creek site in October. That school will open on time, Mr. Licata said.

He said that the school system has increased the daily late fee charged to contractors from $1,000 to $1,500, but that it is doubtful that schools will be built any faster.

And he said late fees are not "free money."

"When we delay a school, we may have costs, for example, if we have to add portable classrooms and it costs about $28,000 to move and install each one," he said.

Mr. Morrison said that if Emmorton Elementary's opening is delayed, the students would have to stay where they are now, at Ring Factory Elementary and Homestead/Wakefield Elementary -- until Emmorton opens. But the nine portables at Ring Factory have been promised to other overcrowded schools, he said. The school system has signed a contract to move them in mid-June.

Mr Morrison said that could anger parents whose children attend overcrowded schools and who were promised relief this year.

In the future, the school system will allow 18 months instead of 11 months to build an elementary school. The system plans to build about four more elementaries before 2000. A lengthy and detailed application process has been designed to weed out contractors that are incompetent or not financially sound.

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