Protecting public school projects

September 18, 1995

WITH ALL THE community commitment that has gone into building the badly needed Oklahoma Road Middle School in Eldersburg, there is one thing that planners did not count on: repeated vandalism. At least a half-dozen times since construction began this spring, vandals have attacked the site at night, burning fencing, scaffolding, blueprints and tools, knocking down and puncturing walls, destroying equipment and spray-painting graffiti.

"The amount of vandalism that we've experienced is the most I've experienced in 18 years with the school system," says Lester Surber, Carroll County school facilities planning supervisor. The malicious destruction has added another week to the considerable delays in completing the 750-pupil school by September next year.

The $12.5 million project is already 10 weeks behind schedule. Authorities are now discussing overtime pay for craftsmen to catch up on the exterior work before winter sets in. But the ongoing vandalism, by culprits yet unknown, can significantly blunt these make-up efforts. So the school system is moving to hire a security firm to protect the site.

The funds for security guards will come out of the pockets of the contractor and the school board, because there's no insurance coverage for vandalism. These dollars won't provide for one more lavatory or classroom; they will simply be an added cost imposed on the public by mindless sociopaths.

After the state repeatedly denied funding, Carroll County responded to the need two years ago with a pledge to pre-pay the building costs itself. It began work with a $2 million partial state grant, hoping to get a final $4 million from the state next year. That is a serious commitment.

We urge school officials to provide security for the project before further damage occurs. Authorities say the 1996 opening date is already in jeopardy, that it is an ambitious target. But given the excessive overcrowding of Sykesville Middle School (from which most children would transfer to the new school), every effort should be made to achieve that goal, including effective security measures.

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