New Headstart classroom plan is aimed at appeasing critics

Building, school would be separate, easing fears of construction trouble

July 23, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County officials have come up with a plan for building Headstart classrooms next to Dasher Green Elementary / Owen Brown Middle School in Columbia that they believe will satisfy local critics.

The seven-classroom Head- start building would not be attached to the school, but would be set on a grassy plot nearby.

"There will be no play area lost, traffic flow is not disturbed and [school] renovations were not hampered," said County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel / Savage Democrat working on the project. "We worked to make sure the citizens' concerns on this were met."

The building will be a few yards from the middle school's southeastern corner, on a grassy, fenced plot at the end of the parking lot. Plans call for slightly expanded parking and a small playground between the Headstart building and the school. No playground space or parking would be lost, and no large-scale paving would be required, said Tom Kierzkowsky, director of school facilities, who discussed the plan at a meeting at Dasher Green last week.

Vanessa Hooks, a parent with two children at the school who worried in May that the Headstart building might complicate the $3.1 million school renovation that is being planned, said she is relieved. "I'm very happy with the location [of Headstart]. It doesn't take anything away from the county or the school."

Hooks has been attending weekly meetings on the school renovation/Headstart project in Dasher Green's media center.

"Now that it's a separate building, it won't interfere," she said.

Dorothy L. Moore, director of the county's Community Action Council, which oversees Headstart, said she too is satisfied, though she was hoping the two buildings would be joined.

"I'm more than pleased that they're doing it. If that's what has to be, I'm OK with it," Moore said.

Headstart is working to better train its teachers and is trying to get more involved with public schools to prepare its 3- and 4-year-old pupils for kindergarten.

Cecil Bray, deputy county chief administrative officer, said funding for the $1.2 million Headstart center isn't set, but he is hoping for federal and state assistance and that work will begin next year.

Moore has been pushing for a home for Headstart since 1998, when the boilers at the former Elkridge Elementary School failed, forcing 108 preschoolers into crowded double shifts at another former school in Ellicott City.

Headstart is a federally funded program designed to help prepare preschoolers from low-income families for success in school. In addition to the Ellicott City location - in a building shared with the county's Center for the Arts - the program uses classrooms at the former Harriet Tubman High School at Atholton.

Bray has said the Headstart building had to be located at the 24-year-old Dasher Green/Owen Brown site because the county is pressed for time and chose the first school renovation project east of U.S. 29 to come along. By linking the two projects, the county hopes to save money, officials say.

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