School's outside chance Renovations: While the $16 million overhaul of Towson High School is being completed, the students will be eating lunch and taking physical-education classes outdoors -- and hoping it doesn't rain.

September 06, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Now being served at Towson High School: cold sandwiches, fruit cups and -- with any luck -- sunny skies.

For the next few weeks, most of the school's 1,040 students will have to eat lunch and take physical-education classes outdoors while the cafeteria and gym are renovated as part of the school's long-awaited $16 million overhaul.

"It was a little surprise," said Principal Gwendolyn R. Grant, who found out several weeks before school started that work on the cafeteria would not be completed by the time classes began.

Grant scurried to get a concrete patio added to the school, ordered a 20-by-45-foot, peach-colored awning to shade part of it and borrowed picnic tables from the county Department of Recreation and Parks.

"You do what you have to do," she said. "When it's not raining, we're fine."

A "rain plan" posted around the fieldstone school, which opened in 1949, calls for hundreds of students to jostle for space in a small cafeteria addition, trailers and a former nurse's office.

The plan has been used only briefly, during the first of the school's three lunch shifts Wednesday. By the time of the "B" lunch period, the clouds had cleared and the students were outdoors again.

"I like sitting outside," senior Amy Distephano, 16, said Thursday while sharing a spot on the sidewalk with her twin sister, Susan. "It's a chance to get outside instead of being inside all day."

"It's become very popular," said Grant, who is thinking about buying another awning for an uncovered concrete slab.

But not all students like al fresco dining.

"I prefer to be inside," said senior Jason Woods, 17, buying lemonade at an outdoor food-service window at the school. "If it rains, we'll get wet. I'm just happy it's my last year."

Junior Brittany Gaver, 15, said, "I'm wondering what's going to happen when it gets cold."

A year ago, students were getting their first taste of construction turmoil as the two-year renovation project at the high school, one of the county's oldest, began.

Partitions changed the school's familiar layout. Construction trailers became a familiar sight. And students braved the elements to get to portable classrooms.

This year, 27 classrooms and the library are sealed off. At the beginning of school, teachers were urged not to assign research projects until the library is back in operation in mid-October.

Workers are scrambling to complete the cafeteria, which will resemble a food court, by the end of the month. The kitchen won't be ready until December. In the meantime, food offerings will be limited to sandwiches, made at nearby Dumbarton Middle School, and snacks.

"I'm waiting for the kitchen. They've been promising they'd do it for 20 years," said Marilyn Workman, the school's longtime cook, who for now is relegated to selling drinks, cookies, chips and cupcakes from a van. "I miss cooking. That's my love."

The gym, which has been closed since March, should be open by the end of next month.

"I hope the gym will be completed before it gets colder," said Beverly Snyder, chairwoman of the physical-education department. "We're trying to stay outside."

Meanwhile, the school resembles a town under siege.

A trailer park of portable classrooms remains. Chain-link fences and orange-mesh roping mark construction zones.

"It's a work in progress," said English teacher Bill Jones. "What's done is very nice. Now, we all want it to be finished."

In the past year, almost 26 classrooms have been refurbished and wired for computers in the south wing. New windows, paint and desks have transformed the almost 50-year-old rooms, where radiators were cantankerous and modern amenities such as television monitors were nonexistent.

Now, each classroom has four computer workstations for students and one for teachers, and a telephone with voice mail. A new heating and cooling system adds comfort. Mauve, lilac and turquoise replace drab ocher and gray.

"The physical appearance was so depressing," said Jones, a teacher for 24 years who came to Towson High six years ago. "When I first saw the conditions at this school, I was stunned."

Grant said, "It was so antiquated. It was really time. Everything was old and in disrepair."

To prepare students for this year's indoor labyrinth, Grant sent maps to students' homes during summer.

Brittany said the maze of repair work is unsettling.

"It's disruptive," she said. "It's hard to get from class to class."

Pub Date: 9/06/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.