Beset by complications, Jessup project fizzles

May 23, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

Red tape, an improved economy and lost momentum finally took their toll on the parent volunteers at Jessup Elementary School who thought they could enclose the open spaces that once were the educational rage faster and cheaper than school officials.

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education has taken over the $100,000 project.

"We would have loved to have seen the volunteers pull this off, but everything worked against them," said Ralph Luther, director of operations and maintenance for county schools.

"It was the largest volunteer project ever proposed, so there was a learning curve on the part of the board," Mr. Luther said. "Then the economy took off and people who had promised to donate materials and be team leaders backed out."

Open classrooms, with no walls to prevent the noise from one class drifting into the next, were distracting to students, parents complained. A group of volunteers, led by Steve Kendall, proposed the project last spring and wanted to start construction last July.

The board planned to do the project eventually, but the parents thought they could solve the problem more quickly with some creative thinking.

The project, however, was doomed from the start.

The volunteers originally were told they needed two electrical outlets per room, instead of two per wall. The sprinkler plan did not pass the first inspection. Some contractors pulled out when important deadlines passed and the volunteers got lost in the bureaucratic maze of rules and regulations, Mr. Kendall said.

And the school board got hung up in a debate over whether to extend insurance coverage to include volunteers.

Mr. Kendall said the volunteers still are trying to arrange for electrical work and doors for classrooms, but decided to turn the rest of the project over to the school board.

"If we hadn't had problems with the board and with delays, yes, I think we could have done it," Mr. Kendall said.

"The volunteers and materials were still there in January, but by March they were gone. What I accomplished in two years is exactly zero, but maybe we smoothed out some of the road blocks so it will be a lot easier for another school to do."

A sprinkler system for the school, paid for by the Board of Education, is nearly complete, and work on the walls will begin in June after students are sent home for summer vacation.

"Steve's heart was in the right place, and I really respect his effort, but I believe it was the right decision to let us take over," Mr. Luther said. "In the future what we'd love is to have a parent group bounce the idea off the school principal, then get our planning and construction department involved, so that we don't go so far down the path only to find out it's not feasible."

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