Sparks students moving to Cockeysville Middle

January 10, 1995|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Robert Guy Matthews contributed to this article.

Students from Sparks Elementary School, which was destroyed by fire Sunday, will move to Cockeysville Middle School, beginning Friday.

School officials announced late yesterday that all 300 Sparks students can be accommodated in about 11 classrooms at Cockeysville, which is 340 students under capacity this year. Cockeysville Middle is south of Sparks on Greenside Drive, between Warren and Cranbrook roads.

Parents, students, teachers and administrators from Sparks will meet at 7 o'clock tonight at Cockeysville to hear more details of the move. Sparks Principal Thomas Ellis urged families to bring their children. "The kids need to see that [the teachers] are safe," he said.

In announcing the relocation plans, Superintendent Stuart Berger said: "We believe this is the best decision we can make for the children and families affected by this terrible fire. We wanted to make sure that we would not compromise the quality of instruction for our students at Sparks. We also agreed with the Sparks community that it was important to keep everyone together to maintain the school's spirit and integrity."

Earlier in the day, school board President Paul Cunningham had assured the Sparks' staff that keeping them together was "the most important thing."

School system spokesman Charles Herndon said last night building employees would begin to move furniture, equipment and materials into Cockeysville "in earnest" today. Some materials from Sparks may be salvageable but what and how much won't be known at least until the end of the week. Engineers were in the burned-out building yesterday, determining if it was sound enough for school system workers to go in to begin salvaging furniture and other materials.

The 85-year-old school on Sparks Road, just off York, burned for several hours Sunday. The custodian discovered the fire about 7:40 a.m. when he arrived to open the building for church services held there. He saw fire coming out of a ventilator and used a fire extinguisher to put it out there but the fire apparently also was burning elsewhere, said Faith Hermann, executive director of facilities for the school system.

"We know it started in the ceiling above a second-story classroom," she said. Ms. Hermann said fire officials told her after inspecting the building that "the fire was burning about an hour before the custodian saw it."

She said investigators said it may have started, not in electrical wiring, as originally thought, but from a spark from a motor in the school's air-handling system. Damage is estimated at about $4 million to the building and its contents.

Built in 1909, the school did not have smoke detectors or a sprinkler system. The security and fire alarms had to be manually activated, said Mr. Herndon. "The building is required to meet the code in the year the building is built," he explained.

Long-term plans for replacing the school will not be made for some time, school officials said.

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III has appointed Winifred Carpenter and Donald Pearce, both Sparks-area residents, to represent his administration in the community on long-range plans for the school. Mr. Pearce, a former school board president, attended Sparks.

"My children all went to Sparks," said Ms. Carpenter, a longtime school activist. "It was my second home for a long, long time. The community wants to save the structure. This is a tough one."

The final decision on Sparks will be made by the board. Mr. Cunningham said that "even on the fast track, we're looking at three years" before a replacement school would open.

Ms. Hermann said that Yale Stenzler, executive director of the state's Interagency Committee on school construction, said he "would work with us" on money to rebuild.

School officials said offers of support had come from many areas of the community. Other county schools are preparing "care packages" of supplies and materials for the Sparks' staff; community residents have offered assistance; and the Howard County schools have offered supplies.

Karen Williams, a fourth-grade teacher at Warren Elementary School, is offering help borne of experience. She taught at Berkshire Elementary School in Dundalk when it burned in 1984. She suggested that other county teachers adopt the Sparks teachers and share materials. "We're really out here for each other," she said. "There's a whole faculty here to help. We all have extra stuff. We should say, 'Here, with love. Now go teach our children.' "

Offers of help are being coordinated through the school system's Office of Community Relations. Anyone wishing to donate materials, time or ideas, should phone (410) 887-4243.

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