School buildings get poor grades for conditions

September 10, 1995|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer

Elementary schools such as 64-year-old Churchville Elementary top the list of Harford County school buildings needing upgrades and overhauls.

The Level Road school has not been renovated or modernized since it was built in 1931.

It has a "fair" health and safety rating, but the building's heating, electrical and plumbing systems are in poor condition, according to school system documents. The condition of the school's roof, replaced recently, is rated as good.

"If nothing else, our age would certainly justify a renovation," said Principal James H. Lewis III. "The boiler is a major problem."

During the winter, Mr. Lewis said, he has spent some weekends getting maintenance workers to the school to fix the boiler so the school would have heat the next week.

Children aren't shivering in classrooms, pipes aren't leaking in bathrooms and lights aren't flickering in school. But the repairs are needed, officials said.

Mr. Lewis' school is in line for modernization after the state in May authorized planning for the project, which could cost $3.3 million, according to school system budget projections.

Forest Hill Elementary School, built in 1939 and also operating with poor heating, electrical and plumbing systems, is on the list for a study of how the aging building off Rocks Road can be modernized.

Elementary schools are slightly older, on average, than middle and high schools in the county. Elementary school buildings have an average age of 30, compared with 27 for middle and high schools. Nine elementary school buildings are more than 40 years old. Five high school buildings are 40 or more years old, but none is older than 45.

The relative youth of the middle and high schools, and more recent renovations, help them stay in better condition, said Joseph P. Licata, supervisor of construction in Harford County schools.

In June, the school board approved a list of construction and improvement projects that, if endorsed by the County Council and General Assembly, would cost nearly $22 million in county and state funds in fiscal 1996-1997.

Portable classrooms, plans for a 600-student elementary school west of Bel Air and three prekindergarten classrooms topped the list.

As for existing schools, the top priorities are modernization of Hickory Elementary, the second phase of modernizing Hall's Cross Roads Elementary in Aberdeen and plans for upgrading Churchville and Forest Hill elementaries.

Modernization is more extensive than changing the way parts of a building are used.

Overall, the county's school buildings are in good condition, MrLicata said. "There are no schools that are in any real dangerous situations," he said.

Two elementary schools are in the midst of long-awaited modernizations. Workers are transforming Roye-Williams Elementary School, between Havre de Grace and Aberdeen, and, after delays in funding, Havre de Grace Elementary School.

The Roye-Williams project, which includes a larger media center and new windows and walls, will cost more than $3 million, Mr. Licata said.

The Havre de Grace project, expected to cost about $3.76 million, includes installation of an elevator in the two-story classroom wing and construction of a larger, updated media center. At both schools, students and administrators have moved out of some of their classrooms and offices to make way for the work, expected to be completed by the end of the school year.

Trying to balance the needs of older schools with needs for new schools has been a challenge for the school system. "We are a growing system, and as far as buildings, we need to accommodate the new enrollment, and we need to take care of what is out there," Mr. Licata said.

Building a 600-student elementary school in the Forest Lakes area, north of Bel Air, is expected to cost about $7.2 million. That project has been fully funded. A 600-student school west of Bel Air also would cost about $7.2 million in state and county funds.

As new schools are built, Mr. Licata said, they include designs and materials that will last with less maintenance, and possibly delay need for renovations. He cited poured terrazzo floors that are more durable than tiles, pitched roofs that retain less snow and rain than flat roofs and glazed tile walls that don't require painting.

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