Education continues amid renovation Obstacles: Students at Towson High School must trek to portable classrooms, take art in former drafting labs and endure other hardships while the school is being renovated.

September 14, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Towson High School looks like a military encampment these days.

After years of delays, one of Baltimore County's oldest high schools -- which had national exposure in John Waters' film "Serial Mom" -- finally is being refurbished.

But the $16 million project comes at an additional price.

Students are taking chemistry and art classes in former drafting labs. They climb metal stairs outside the building to reach the second-floor library. And they have to contend with finicky weather to get to 20 portable classrooms outside the building.

The portables compete for space with construction trailers. Indoors, partitions seal off half the building and create labyrinths to rooms still in use.

"I hate it," said junior Mike Mettee, 16, walking to a trailer recently. "As soon as it starts raining, it's going to be horrible."

Added senior Bria Foltz, 17, "It's my last year. I deal with it. But I don't like it."

But other students are more amenable. "It's not bad. I don't have a problem with it," said sophomore Emily Shirley, 15.

The two-year construction project is being done in two phases, with one wing being refurbished this year. Next year, the remaining section will be closed for renovation.

Even the school's dated stone facade will be cleaned -- although it will retain its vintage 1950s look.

"At long last," said English teacher Bill Jones, who initiated the push for an overhaul five years ago. "It was shabby and old. The students deserved better than what they had had here."

Social studies teacher Randy Dase gives the trailers a high score.

"I'm excited. They're air-conditioned classrooms, bright and cheerful. Bring more trailers. We'll enjoy ourselves right now."

Towson High isn't the only county school being modernized this fall. Perry Hall middle and high schools also are undergoing renovations. But their repairs are not on the scale of Towson's, school system spokesman Donald I. Mohler III said.

Towson High Principal Gwendolyn R. Grant remains upbeat about juggling 1,000 students and more than 100 school personnel during the initial phase of construction that began in June with asbestos removal.

"We must be creative," she said, strolling through the school halls recently with on-site project manager John C. Pomory, of Wohlsen/McLaughlin, the Lancaster, Pa., firm hired by the school system to oversee the work.

'Very calming'

One of Grant's first construction decisions was to have the school's temporary partitions painted mauve, a pinkish purple color. "It's very calming," she explained.

Pomory shrugged with a laugh, not entirely convinced. "What do I know? I have 30 pairs of black socks."

Student Foltz also isn't quite comfortable with the school's new pervasive color.

"It's hard not to run into the pink walls, the Pepto-Bismol walls," she said, making a face of distaste. "Why not gray?"

So far, students and construction workers have maintained a respectful distance since school opened two weeks ago.

"They haven't really bothered us, except for peeking in here and there," said Chuck Eatel, superintendent for White Marsh-based A-L Abatement Inc., which is removing asbestos from the school. "We leave them alone, and they leave us alone."

Once the first phase of asbestos removal is completed, work begins in earnest to update electrical, heating and plumbing systems in the school that was built in 1949. An Oct. 8 ceremony will mark the occasion.

"We'll break a wall," said Grant, referring to a partition made for the occasion -- painted mauve, of course.

Fund-raising drive planned

Efforts also are under way to raise $500,000 for technology upgrades once the school's repairs are complete, said John Hayden, attorney and Towson High parent.

He and other members of the Fund for the Future committee, who are soliciting contributions from local families and businesses, soon will be sending appeal letters to Towson High's 15,000 alumni.

"It's different," said Grant of the construction frenzy. "I've never done this before. But I really do enjoy the challenge."

Pub Date: 9/14/96

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