Coping in a decaying and crowded school Woodmoor Elementary viewed as indicative of problems in system

March 13, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

Even the brightness of the early morning sun can't seem to do much to illuminate the halls of Woodmoor Elementary School.

"It's even worse during bad weather," Principal Antoinette G. Lyles said as she strolled through the dark corridors yesterday. "When it's really dreary weather, it makes it feel like you are outside."

Poor lighting and other problems prompted the county planning board to recommend a $5 million modernization of the 40-year-old school near the Liberty Road Beltway exit.

The renovation request was a surprise item in the board's recommended capital budget, because school officials had not requested it.

The school represents an old problem facing the school system an abundance of older, decaying buildings and a burgeoning student population.

Forty-five percent of the 158 schools date to the 1950s or earlier.

This week, the County Council commissioned its second committee in two years to study the problem of school crowding.

Parents and faculty at Woodmoor say money is essential to save the building and deal with the swelling numbers of students. Enrollment has risen from a little more than 400 students to 650 in three years, and is expected to top 700 in September.

Educational coping

A crumbling, crowded building makes the task of educating children difficult, Dr. Lyles said.

"It makes it harder because it interferes with my being in the classroom more," she said. "Instead, I'm managing all of these pieces to make this a place where kids can learn."

Dark floor tiles absorb light, lending an appearance of continual gloom to the hallways.

A new boiler in need of adjustment leaves parts of the building cold and other areas sweltering.

Every possible space is used: Teachers use supply rooms for teaching, and some physical education classes spill over into the cafeteria, where the staff rushes to set up lunch tables as the students dash out.

Karen Montague, president of the school's PTA, remembers when the roof leaked several years ago and huge trash cans were placed in the halls to catch dripping water. A new roof has been installed, but more repairs are needed, Mrs. Montague said.

"A lot needs to be done to repair this school," she said. "Each year, I've seen it going downhill."

Mrs. Montague credits the staff, especially Dr. Lyles, with providing a quality education despite tough circumstances.

Donald I. Mohler, spokesman for county schools, said the system relies on community input and communication to determine what repair requests take precedence on capital budgets.

"What we try to do is communicate with the area superintendent to comprise a list of priority needs for the schools," Mr. Mohler said. "That is then incorporated into the capital budget requests."

Addition approved

State and county funds have been allocated for a modular addition to Woodmoor to ease crowding.

But some teachers and parents say it seems silly to build a modern air-conditioned addition onto a school in need of repair.

Lou Bornes' fourth-grade class largely has taken over the school library for two months, after a broken cable left his trailer classroom without heat and electricity.

But as a crew worked on the damaged cable yesterday, Mr. Bornes said the bleakness of the school's building could not hide Woodmoor's success.

"We still have one of the best schools in Baltimore County," he said. "The physical side may be a little decaying, but morale stays up because that is the only way we could continue to do our jobs."

Pub Date: 3/13/96

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