Aging Ferndale school to be closed

Anne Arundel elementary unsuitable for instruction

July 31, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

With termites crawling through the walls and water running through the kitchen, Ferndale Elementary School is "no longer suitable for instruction" and will be shut down for this school year, new Anne Arundel County Superintendent Eric J. Smith announced yesterday.

The decision was made two months after the County Council approved $450,000 to fix the roof of the 76-year-old school - money Ferndale parents had thought would save their beloved school in the northern part of the county from closure. But that money will be put on hold while the school's woeful condition is evaluated and its 132 pupils transferred to George Cromwell Elementary in Glen Burnie.

"We don't want to put them into a school that has multiple issues that pose a threat," Smith said yesterday. For the health and safety of the children, he said, they had to be moved.

Smith noted the presence of airborne mold; repeated water damage to the roof, ceilings, walls and carpets; the erosion of mortar and masonry; the outdated heating and ventilation systems; and the termites. Many classroom walls, he said, are "crumbling and simply falling down."

Smith has ordered an evaluation of the school and will decide what to do by November, according to a letter to be sent to parents today.

The school's staff and principal will also transfer to George Cromwell, about a mile from Ferndale. Ferndale and Cromwell pupils will mix in some classes.

Parents said yesterday they are worried this is the first step toward closing the school, which is the smallest and among the oldest in the county.

"Everyone wants to know: Are they going to repair it and get us back in our building?" asked Debbie Layton, who has two sons at the school. "It's not going to be fair to the children or to the staff if they are told it's temporary and then [the school system] turns around and says it's permanent."

Ken Doane, a former president of Ferndale's PTA who has a daughter in the fifth grade there, said most parents he has spoken with support the move because they don't want their children put in a dangerous setting.

"If you use the idea of health and safety, who's going to argue with that?" Doane said. But he also wondered if Ferndale's problems were unique. "Sure it can get hot. Sure the roof can leak. I don't know any school in the area that doesn't have those complaints."

Because the school is so small and the families so supportive, the people who work there and send their children there say it's like a second family. Part of the reason they fought so hard to save it - selling T-shirts, signing petitions, doing patch-and-paste work - was because of its individuality, they said.

"There's a little lump in my throat," former Principal Mary Grande said yesterday when she heard the news. She was transferred from the school last month after eight years as principal. The conditions were never so bad that she feared for the children's safety.

"We've been educating them in that school for a long time," Grande said. "But somebody saying out loud that this is an issue that needs to be examined - perhaps that's a good thing."

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