Patapsco Middle says farewell to open space design

May 27, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Bobby Bergin, a seventh-grader at Patapsco Middle School, won't miss the school's open space classroom design nor its antiquated heating and air conditioning system when he returns to school next fall.

By that time, the Ellicott City school will have traditional enclosed classrooms and a partially complete new heating and air conditioning system.

"It won't be as hot," said the seventh-grader, "and with enclosed classrooms we won't hear noise from other classrooms."

Over the next two years, the Ellicott City school will undergo a $2.3 million renovation project that will transform it from a school without classroom walls to one with enclosed classrooms, a new air conditioning and heating system, windows, wheelchair ramps and handicapped-accessible restrooms.

The three-phase project is "changing the building to make it more educational-friendly and more up to date," said Principal Stephen Gibson.

Wilde Lake Middle School is scheduled for similar renovation in the next two years, said Thomas Kierzkowski, director of school facilities for the Howard County public schools. And Wilde Lake High School, which was established in 1970 with open classrooms, will be demolished next month and rebuilt as a more traditional structure.

Established in 1969, Patapsco Middle School initially was built with a planetarium but without a cafeteria or classroom walls. Students were encouraged to work together and to eat their lunch in common areas scattered throughout the circular building.

But students and teachers found it difficult to concentrate without walls to suppress noise from adjoining classrooms. By the early 1970s, a cafeteria and permanent and temporary classroom walls were added to the school. The planetarium has since been converted to a computer laboratory.

The room partitions resulted in odd-shaped classrooms, however, and prevented the heating and air-conditioning system from reaching all parts of the building.

"You had pockets of hot and cold air," said Mr. Gibson, who worked as a social studies student teacher at the school in 1976.

The school also was built without accessibility for disabled students. Because stairs and steep ramps currently lead to some classrooms, students using wheelchairs can only be taught in a few classrooms, causing scheduling difficulties.

Several years ago, Mr. Gibson, parents and faculty members decided to do something about those problems. A four-person committee, made up of Mr. Gibson, two parents and a social studies teacher, was formed to examine ways to improve the school.

Teresa Moller, one of the parents who was on the committee, said she enjoyed redesigning the school.

"It was one of the most exciting things I've ever done," she said. "It was quite a privilege that I could leave a mark on the school."

In the construction project's first phase, which began last month, three classrooms will be carved from a space that once held 15 classrooms. Permanent walls will be added to some classrooms, while others will feature folding walls that can be used to reduce or enlarge a room.

"We're retaining the concept of open space environment," Mr. Gibson said.

While the classrooms are under renovation, students attend class elsewhere in the building.

The second phase will focus on the middle corridor, which once contained the planetarium. That phase will include enlarging the computer laboratory, creating a gifted and talented resources classroom and a guidance counselors' office.

During the third phase, the rest of the heating and air conditioning system will be installed in the wing of the school that includes home economics, shop, and music classes.

Each phase is expected to take a summer to complete. The first phase is scheduled for completion by Aug. 17. By the time the renovation is complete in 1996, the school will be able to add 200 students to its current 435-student population.

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