Special needs school bids to buy site in Elkridge

Norbel facility would leave Oheb Shalom, take over former elementary building

January 17, 2000|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

The Norbel School, a private school for learning disabled children, has bid $500,000 to buy the closed Elkridge Elementary School site, school director Margaret R. Gold said.

The bid signals the school's plan to leave its two-story space at the Temple Oheb Shalom synagogue in the 7300 block of Park Heights Ave., where it has been housed since its start in a single room 20 years ago.

The school, which features small classes, intensive supervision and a "rational skills" curriculum, is bursting at the seams.

Gold said the Norbel School, which has 100 pupils in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, needs room to expand its library and technology facilities. Also, she said, the population will grow and include high schoolers from the city, and Baltimore and Howard counties.

"We have been looking so long," she said, adding that she expected to hear by the end of the month from Howard County officials.

If the bid is accepted, renovation of the public school built in the 1930s in northern Howard County will proceed at a cost of $3.5 million, school officials said. The school has begun a capital campaign to raise money for the move.

By bidding for a 46,000-square-foot building on 9 acres, Gold said, "We are looking into the future. The goal is [to complete the move] in 2001." For the first time, the school would have a gym and playing fields.

Synagogue executive director Jesse Harris said last week the parting is amicable. "The school grew from nothing, and it's a fine community resource," he said. "We gave them several years to explore their options."

Harris said the synagogue, which has shared the space with Norbel for two decades, will refurbish the religious school area after the move.

For the time being, however, the bright synagogue classrooms seem to suffice, filled with young teachers and earnest pupils who appear engaged in math questions tossed at them. "Ask me a hard one," one boy demanded.

Dressed according to a loose school code that allows khakis but not jeans, students are allowed to chew gum or suck lollipops -- if "it helps them focus," said Gold.

Life lessons are spelled out in a set of givens placed in plain view, such as "Everybody has a boss" and "Living involves hassle every day."

Scott Lichtman, 13, has learned them well. Describing the travels of Lewis and Clark on their historic expedition to the Northwest aided by the Native American woman Sacajawea, he said, "You don't know what to expect the next day, kind of like life."

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