It's a major work still in progress, but Randallstown school reopens

`It's like a miracle,' given size of overhaul

September 11, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

For now, the kindergartners will go to school a bus ride away -- their three newly renovated classrooms at Randallstown Elementary School are serving as a cafeteria, with a few pint-sized lunch tables and the cash register in one of the rooms.

For now, the library is in a portable classroom, a drab trailer across a small road from the school. The soon-to-be-enlarged media center, with its shelves of fresh books and lab of computers, is a construction site without walls or ceilings.

Yesterday -- after 300 pupils received one more week of summer than the rest of Baltimore County's youngsters -- Randallstown Elementary, the oldest school in the county, finally opened.

Some parts of the 93-year-old school look new. The classrooms are large, and there are red lockers where there were none before.

Some parts still need work. The stairwells are without carpet or tile, workers poured concrete sidewalks along the bus loop only yesterday and the building's add-on cafeteria won't be done for weeks. The phased-in renovation is scheduled for completion next spring.

But the school was open.

"It comes together because it has to," said Marcel I. Hall, the school's six-year principal, a dynamo who spent nearly every waking moment over the weekend making it so. "When you have to do something, it happens."

Few who saw the building last week, when wires were hanging from the ceiling, thought it could be done. "It's like a miracle from Canaan," said Scott Gehring, executive director of the county schools in the northwest area.

Veronica Cox is the president of the PTA at Randallstown. She and other parents monitored the $5.5 million renovation. "We didn't think that it was going to happen," she said, "but they came through."

"We don't know if everything actually functions as it's supposed to," cautioned parent Sarah Dobson. "They rushed in the last few days to get it done."

Parents wanted a new school. They pushed as hard as they could. They even held their children out of school during the crucial Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests in the spring of 2000 to draw attention to their cause. State Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick had to step in and mediate.

They lost the battle.

"We still have some bitter feelings about not getting the new facility," Dobson said. "I don't think it's a closed issue."

After all this work, the school has the same number of classrooms as it did when the work began. With space for 426 children, the school has more than 350 and more keep enrolling in the fast-growing area. Randallstown has two first-grade classes, each with 30 children. And the new expansion -- a one-story cafeteria/auditorium with a capacity of 500 -- hasn't been designed for additions.

On Hall's first day of school, she poked her head into each classroom to welcome her charges to the updated building.

"How do you like the room?" she asked Laurie Kaczorowski's third-graders. "Doesn't it look nice? New chalkboard. New windows. New floors. ... We didn't have this before."

Hall, 53, is a grandmother of four with a love for her kids. She knows which pupils are new and shakes their hands to welcome them. She blows kisses and gives pep talks in each classroom. "I missed you," one second-grader shouts to her.

"Let me tell you something, our kids in Randallstown Elementary are some of the best in Baltimore County," she tells one class. She tells them that on standardized tests, 97 percent of last year's second-graders showed they could read at or above grade level.

"Schools have to have spirits and souls," she says later. "The facility, yes, it's beautiful, but if kids don't feel like they're part of it ... it looks nice but it doesn't mean anything."

But, she adds to a visitor on the way out, "I can't wait till it's finished."

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