Howard Week

September 08, 2002

Columbians remodel homes rather than moving elsewhere

Sitting in their back yard on a balmy evening last month, Brad and Debbie Bondhus envision the new family room for their Columbia home that will soon take the place of the deck. Columbia, where strangers sometimes lose their way in vast tracts of nearly identical houses, is beginning to develop more individuality as families such as the Bondhuses decide to add a family room here, a bedroom there, a larger kitchen, a bathroom, a garage.

But each of Columbia's 10 villages has its set of covenants, governing everything from lawn ornaments to house color. A homeowner cannot build a garage or add vinyl siding without approval from the village architectural committee.

Despite the hurdles, families that need more space are choosing the challenge of remodeling over the expense of a buying larger house elsewhere in Howard.

Salvadorans granted residency extension

Mauricio Vargas was afraid to return to his wife and two young children in El Salvador. The Silver Spring resident was worried he couldn't take care of them.

But after filling out a few forms and having his photograph taken Aug. 31 in Columbia, Vargas' worries subsided, at least temporarily. The 35-year- old who delivered pizzas signed up for a "temporary protected status" extension, which will allow him to remain in the United States legally for another year.

Nearly 260,000 Salvadorans nationwide are eligible for such an extension. The program began last year, when the U.S. Justice Department program gave Salvadorans an 18-month legal residency because of two earthquakes that struck their country in January and February, killing more than 1,200 people and causing more than $2 billion in damage. At the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center, about 200 people went through the process, event organizers said.

Howard hospital opens new birthing center

New mothers in Howard County General Hospital got to see daylight Wednesday when the revamped and relocated labor and delivery area and neonatal intensive care unit were opened.

In the basement for 20 years, the birthing rooms have been moved to the second floor, above the recently opened emergency department. All have windows, along with a lot of luxury and high-tech equipment to make the experience as painless as possible.

The renovations make up the third phase of a $34 million expansion and upgrade.

Family sues county over E. Coli infections

An Ellicott City family is suing two top Howard County officials, claiming that their three children became sick from deadly E. coli bacteria because the county failed to properly maintain its sewer lines, allowing waste to leak into a nearby stream.

Although county health officials later said the Plumtree stream bed was an unlikely source of the bacteria, Michael and Lisa Thompson contend in their lawsuit that raw sewage leaked into the stream and contaminated the water near their home and made their children sick three years ago.

The Thompsons are suing County Executive James N. Robey and Public Works Director James M. Irvin, claiming public and private nuisance and negligence. The lawsuit asks for more than $1 million.

Citizens' panel works to remap school districts

Last year, redistricting in Howard County schools brought parents close to war. This year, elementary and middle school districts are being reshaped, and the numbers of children involved are much larger.

The remapping has a number of goals, including filling a new elementary and a new middle school, relieving crowding at some schools and bringing better balance to feeder systems used to funnel students to middle and high schools.

Already - even with barely penciled-in preliminary proposals - some neighborhoods are unhappy. But the work of this year's reconfigured citizens' redistricting advisory panel appears to be going more smoothly, with better organization and better data.

County updates how it deals with emergencies

Howard County seems an unlikely target for terrorists. There are no renowned national treasures and nothing that offers the symbolism of the Pentagon or the World Trade Center.

But Howard is less than 35 miles from Washington, and the FBI inspected the Valencia and Pin-Del motels on U.S. 1 in the county because they believed two suspected Sept. 11 hijackers stayed there. And in October and November, county residents flooded emergency lines with anthrax scares.

While Howard County has not changed much on the surface, county officials say their jobs have changed in important ways since Sept. 11. They have been updating emergency procedures, buying new equipment and training employees to deal with terrorist threats. The county also has received grants from the state and federal governments to purchase materials and inspect drinking water.

Some would-be teachers find roadblocks on way

Educators spent three years hammering out a program to help future elementary school teachers transfer smoothly from two-year to four-year colleges and get on their way to classroom jobs.

But as the first students to earn the associate of arts degree in teaching for elementary education get ready to move on, they are finding additional requirements still stand between them and the education departments of some popular four-year schools.

Administrators at Howard Community College in particular are concerned that four-year colleges including more affordable state schools - plan to admit transfer students to their schools and then delay them from entering the education program by a semester or more with required classes.

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