A gaggle of Woodlawn children kicked off construction of long-awaited Dogwood Elementary School with a high volume "5-4-3-2-1" countdown yesterday.
"That's it, it's official," said Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, digging his shovel into ceremonial dirt. "Now the work begins."
The school -- which will relieve pressure on Chadwick Elementary School, the county's most crowded -- will be built for $10 million on 12.5 acres on Dogwood Road, which cuts through green pastures and business parks.
Dogwood's 23 classrooms will be occupied by up to 516 children when it opens in fall 2000, said Charles A. Herndon, schools spokesman.
The school, the county's 162nd, will be similar in design to Westchester Elementary School, which opened last fall.
Chadwick Elementary in Woodlawn has about 670 pupils and is 192 pupils over capacity, officials said. To deal with the high enrollment, caused by a large migration of families with school-age children from the city, the county built a seven-room addition at Chadwick four years ago. More recently, it brought in eight temporary classrooms.
More than a year ago, parents of children who attend Chadwick rallied for a new school. Some complained that their children had to eat on the floor in the trailers, and that the school didn't have enough restrooms.
A series of community meetings helped to spotlight the problem, said Anthony Rollie, 34, departing PTA president at Chadwick. Teamwork among par- ents, county and state officials made the Dogwood school a reality, he said.
Without the new school, pupil population at Chadwick could hit 707 by 2001, according to county statistics. Chadwick has seen enrollment increase by 79 percent since 1990. In Baltimore County's southwest area, the number of students could grow by about 800 by 2008.
Employees and pupils at Chadwick have made the best of their situation. Tight corridors and classrooms have forced teachers to cooperate and share, said Principal Linda Proudfoot.
"It's helped that there's been a lot of teamwork and team spirit," she said. "In a way, we've grown closer and more supportive."
Candice Footman, 7, a Chadwick pupil who participated in the groundbreaking countdown, said she can't wait for the new school. Because Dogwood's boundaries have yet to be set, it's unclear which Chadwick pupils will move.
"I think the inside will be very, very nice with a lot of classrooms for children," Candice said. "The playground will be very interesting."