Education from scratch

Building: The principal overseeing the construction of Carroll's Century High School has the rare opportunity to set the foundation for a new era.

March 27, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Scanning the architectural drawings before him, Principal David Booz saw nothing but a jumble.

Lines for basketball. Lines for practice courts. And lines for competition volleyball, practice volleyball and regulation badminton - all on the same gymnasium floor.

"How soon do you need these?" he asked.

"Right away," a chorus of project managers, architects and construction assistants responded with the intensity of a team of harried doctors about to perform heart surgery. Work crews are laying and bolting down the wooden subflooring right now, they explained.

"But I literally have a day?" Booz asked. "I mean, you don't need these right this hour? Because this seems like an awful lot of lines, and I believe the basketball people will go absolutely berserk."

Booz got his reprieve and added another item to his ever-lengthening to-do list: sort out location and color of lines, logos and lettering for gym floors.

Such is the life of the man who in 153 days will open Century High School in Eldersburg, Carroll County's first new high school in more than two decades. Since Booz was named principal of the new school 10 months ago, his life has been a busy blur of construction meetings and contracts, fabric swatches and paint chips, book orders and brainstorming sessions with his leadership team.

Opening a new high school is an infrequent occurrence in the Baltimore area. New elementary and middle schools open all the time - Carroll County has opened 10 since 1990 - but the construction of a high school is a huge undertaking that typically costs $30 million or more.

In the five-county metro area, only Howard and Carroll counties have new high schools under construction. Carroll is building both Century High in Eldersburg and the identical Winters Mill High, which is scheduled to open outside Westminster next year, and Howard will open Reservoir High in Fulton in 2002. Baltimore County is expected to break ground this summer on its first new high school in 20 years, and Harford County is preparing to tear down and rebuild the 50-year-old Aberdeen High and rebuild it in the same spot.

Principals who have opened new high schools often describe the experience as the highlight of their careers.

"It's six years later, and I still get chills when I walk in that building, and I will till I die," said Henry Bohlander, Frederick County's director of high schools, who was principal of Ijamsville's Urbana High when it opened in 1995. "It was something that everybody was very proud of and worked very hard on, and knowing that you had an influence on making that happen gives you a tremendous feeling of accomplishment."

Along with that, though, comes a tremendous burden.

When Principal David Bruzga was tapped in June 1995 to open Long Reach High in Columbia, he was overwhelmed with a flood of worries.

"Then it hits you what a tremendous responsibility this is," he said. "You're really responsible for forming a whole new institution, and that's not just about ordering books and hiring new teachers and meeting new students." For eight months, Bruzga was besieged by "literally a million details."

There were school colors and a mascot to be chosen. There were angry parents and weepy students to address. There were booster clubs and a PTA to be formed, a master schedule to be built and redistricting to be handled. And someone had to decide which side of the gymnasium would be for the home team so work crews would know how to position the school emblems on the floor.

In Carroll County, David Booz is happily at the center of this.

During one of his recent walk-throughs of the construction site with a team of project managers, architects and construction assistants, cords and wires ran the length of hallways. Sparks flew as welders worked on a steel support at the front entrance. Wiring for the school's speaker system dangled from gaping holes in the ceiling. Heaps of building materials sat in the middle of classrooms, offices and hallways, waiting to be unpacked and used. And the "Main Street" section of the school - a long, high-ceilinged corridor from which classrooms and common spaces branch off - echoed with the buzz of electrical saws, the whine of a drill, the pounding of dozens of hammers.

But none of that fazed Booz, who has observed the modern, conference center-styled high school rise out of the earth since its June 1999 groundbreaking.

Like a proud father, he showed off the nearly $30 million school's best features - a big-windowed cafeteria, a sweeping staircase beneath the octagonal rotunda and a red-brick auditorium with acoustical curved walls and a professional sound and lighting booth. He talks about the experience as "building a dream."

"It's been real exciting to watch it all come together," Booz said, surveying the crews laying flooring in the gym. "In July, this wasn't even recognizable to what it is today. So it's been real neat to watch."

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