Demolition or renovation of school to depend on its historical significance

January 05, 1995|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

County school officials are getting a history lesson as they plan for the future of Elmer Wolfe Elementary School in Union Bridge.

The historical significance of the school building will determine whether the county renovates it or razes it to build a new school.

County school officials want to demolish the Elmer Wolfe building and are seeking additional state money for the construction of a new school.

But the Maryland Historical Trust has not approved the demolition. The agency's approval is required to destroy any building that is more than 50 years old if the project is to receive state money.

Last month, county school officials asked the state to increase its contribution to the Elmer Wolfe project by $1.3 million, from $2.1 million to $3.4 million. The additional money would permit the county to build a school instead of renovating the old building.

But the Interagency Committee, which administers the state Public School Construction Program, postponed the decision because the Maryland Historical Trust had not approved the demolition of the school, said Barbara Strein, a liaison from the Maryland Office of Planning.

As a result, the Maryland Historical Trust and staff from the Public School Construction Program will visit Elmer Wolfe within

three weeks to make a final recommendation.

"We've identified the school as an eligible building [for the state's register of historic properties]," said Lauren Bowlin, a preservation officer with the Maryland Historic Trust. "That's why we're seeking adequate justification for its demolition."

Vernon Smith, director of county school support services, hopes the site visit will occur before Jan. 25, when county school officials go before the State Board of Public Works to make another request for the additional funds to replace Elmer Wolfe Elementary School.

Mr. Smith said a historical architect advising the county school system concluded that the Elmer Wolfe building had little historical significance.

The school system sent information to the Maryland Historical Trust regarding the difficulties of renovating the Elmer Wolfe building to meet current classroom requirements.

"It hasn't totally convinced us," Ms. Bowlin said of the school officials' arguments in favor of demolition. "We felt we couldn't make a decision without a site visit."

The oldest section of Elmer Wolfe Elementary School was built in 1931. Additional sections were built in 1951 and 1969.

School officials say that the building -- with several levels, corridors and stairwells -- doesn't lend itself to renovation and expansion. They say that the cost of constructing a school -- $6,179,000 -- is only about $100,000 more than the cost of renovation.

The county is requesting an additional $1.3 million from the Interagency Committee because the state usually pays a larger percentage of the cost of a new school than it does of a renovation project.

"The savings are not worth the compromises in the building design that would have to be made to do a renovation," Mr. Smith said.

The Carroll school board originally planned to renovate the Elmer Wolfe building, but decided to build a school based on the recommendations of the construction planning committee.

If the demolition of Elmer Wolfe is approved, the school system will preserve items of architectural significance in the old school.

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