Delay of renovation project draws fire

April 12, 1995|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

Excitement was building at Wilde Lake Middle School as spring approached -- not so much for the promise of warmer weather, but for the promise of a better, more workable school.

On March 24, children brought home a newsletter that told of the preparations: Teachers were packing up equipment not needed for the rest of the school year; administrators were making plans to move children and teachers around to make way for the renovators.

That same day, after the children had gone home, the school's new principal astonished her staff.

There would be no renovation this year, she said.

At the Howard County school board meeting last night, members got an earful about the surprise from Rosemary Mortimer, a state PTA vice president whose son will attend Wilde Lake Middle next year.

"The communication to the community regarding the delay in the project was, quite bluntly, a fiasco. The project was delayed on March 23, but nobody bothered to notify the PTA president," Ms. Mortimer said. "The first vice president of the PTA held a meeting on March 27 to discuss final colors and design."

She said she found it inexplicable that the school system had only one bid on the project, which was rejected a week before construction was to start April 1.

The $2.2 million bid was $1 million more than the school system wanted to pay to renovate Wilde Lake. The bidder had done similar work at Patapsco Middle School for $1.2 million.

Ms. Mortimer suggested that the school system might enlist one of its school-business partners to help in the bidding process.

Sidney L. Cousin, the assistant superintendent who oversees construction projects, took offense at the suggestion that outside help is needed and said it was not the policy of the board to notify parents of decisions on contracts.

Board member Karen Campbell added, "We did this action in public, and the public does have some responsibility to pay attention."

Mr. Cousin said the project would be re-bid in time for renovations to begin in January.

Also last night, the board approved the school system's participation in one year of a five-year study of the effects of including young children with disabilities in classes with other children.

The study is being conducted by the Early Childhood Research Institute on Inclusion, a consortium of investigators at Vanderbilt University, Washington State University, the University of Maryland and San Francisco University.

UM researchers plan to work with preschool children at two county elementary schools. They will observe students and teachers, interview teachers and rate how well disabled children mix with other children by asking whom they plan to invite to their birthday parties.

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