Parents, teachers, officials tour renovated Deer Park school Building was closed in spring after complaints

August 14, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A group of parents, teachers, administrators and county officials received its first look yesterday at the newly renovated Deer Park Elementary.

The group of about two dozen people toured the Owings Mills school, where complaints about heating, ventilation and air quality led to the building being closed and students moved to two nearby schools in the spring.

The daylong, invitation-only tour included a walk-through of classrooms, bathrooms, the boiler room, and storage areas, and a briefing on renovations for the parents in an attempt to allay concerns about the safety of the building.

"I like what I saw and they're making good improvements," said Judith Carter, president of Deer Park PTA. "There is always room for improvement and there are some small things that need to be worked on, but for the most part things seem to be going well."

Controversy has swirled around Deer Park, where many parents pulled their children from classes and demanded tests to determine if the leaking of ethylene glycol, an antifreeze, from the heating system was responsible for students and teachers becoming ill.

The tour attracted reporters and news crews from all of the major Baltimore television stations, who waited for hours outside the school after officials refused to let them accompany the group on the tour.

Lisa Cohen, an uninvited parent who noticed the waiting throng, told reporters she was eager to have the matter of the school's safety settled and her children able to resume classes at Deer Park.

"There were some problems, but I don't believe the school was unsafe and should have been closed last year," Cohen said. "I just hope that everything will soon be laid to rest so our kids can get back to their education."

The tour came as school officials look to reopening the building in time for the first day of classes Aug. 26.

"We think the building is fine for occupancy," said Dr. Stephen Jones, the school system's associate superintendent for support services. "We need to get some final tests back, but there is nothing to suggest at this time that there will be any delays that will prevent us from opening on time."

Jones said $500,000 had been budgeted for renovations to the school, which included intense cleaning of the building, modifications to heating and ventilation units, instillation of air diffusers and improving air flow.

A healthy buildings program has been instituted in which outside consultants will monitor Deer Park, and letters are expected to be sent to parents later this week explaining the renovations and inviting them to an open house there, Jones said.

Michael Johnson, a parent, said after taking part in the tour that officials are going to have to work to restore trust between themselves and the community. Initially, many parents felt their concerns were not being taken seriously and that officials were not being honest with them, Johnson said.

"There have been a lot of issues that parents have raised that were valid concerns," Johnson said. "One of the best things to come out of this is that there will now be building standards that will assure that our kids won't have to trade their health for their education."

George Perdikakis, director of the county's Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management, led the tour.

Perdikakis said air quality tests will be conducted this week and officials hope to give a final approval for opening the building on time.

Pub Date: 8/14/96

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