Elementary appears headed for closure

School board is split on spending $9.3 million for Ferndale renovations

January 19, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Ferndale Elementary School, one of Anne Arundel County's oldest schools and its smallest, appears headed for closure after a split school board failed to vote funds yesterday for its renovation.

The board voted 4-4 on whether to spend $9.3 million to renovate the crumbling, waterlogged 75-year-old structure. Five votes were needed to make the investment.

The only affordable option, half the board believes, is to begin the process of shutting Ferndale's doors for good and transferring the school's 152 pupils to neighboring campuses. Other elementary schools that feed into North County High School have 1,234 empty seats, meaning the state would be unlikely to subsidize more schools.

"I see no justification for investing $9.3 million in a school that it appears we have no justification for retaining, given the condition of it," said board member Vaughn L. Brown Jr. Brown, with President Paul G. Rudolph, member Carlesa Finney and student member Alicia Pettit, voted not to fix Ferndale.

Superintendent Carol S. Parham, who was overruled in 1999 when she proposed closing the school for the same reasons, said if the building isn't renovated she can't keep sending pupils to Ferndale, considering its advanced state of disrepair.

The walls are soaked, and some rooms are unusable because of water that enters from the ground and roof.

"Let me make it perfectly clear," she told the board as Wednesday night's meeting stretched into yesterday morning. "I made a recommendation for Ferndale to be closed. I still believe that is the appropriate direction.

"I've been in that building. That building continues to go downhill, and it makes me ashamed to have students in the facility as it is. Bottom line: I want those students to be provided for appropriately."

Later yesterday, Parham said she will wait for direction from the board and attorneys before recommending that Ferndale be closed.

Board policy dictates that closing it couldn't happen at least until the end of next school year.

Board member Michael J. McNelly said he voted in 1999 to keep Ferndale open and had no choice yesterday but to put the dollars behind his pledge. "It's probably cheaper to do that [close the school], it's probably wiser to do that," said McNelly, but added he was "obligated" to favor the renovation. McNelly was joined by board members Tony Spencer, Janet Bury and Joseph Foster in voting to keep the school open.

Parents left the board meeting feeling that they had seen their school get its death sentence. Longtime PTA President Rita Lowman said parents want the state of limbo to end, even if it means closing Ferndale.

"I am disappointed because it's a community school," she said. "It's where my children went, and where I was hoping my grandkids would go."

The school will be open in August, but Lowman worries parents will begin transferring their children ahead of the rush, dropping enrollment at Ferndale even lower. As for teachers, "applications will probably start heading out the door in another month or so," she said.

While Lowman says she has spent years worrying about the fate of Ferndale, she sees things differently now: "I do believe that $9 million could be used someplace else to benefit more children."

Liz Wagner, who has a kindergartner and third-grader at Ferndale, said, "It's sad. It's very heartbreaking to know what will happen."

Ferndale is the smallest school in the county, and the trend is toward bigger schools, where increased educational options can be offered to more students.

On Wednesday, the school board approved construction projects at three other schools. The board voted to replace Marley Middle for $35.4 million and Marley Elementary for $15.6 million and agreed to a $12.6 million renovation of Tracey's Elementary.

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