Trying to nail down renovations at school

Easements needed before sewer line work can start

April 23, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

At a time when construction crews should have been about a third of the way through an $18.2 million renovation of the aged North Carroll Middle School, county officials are still waiting for four landowners to grant easements from their property so county crews can extend a sewer line to the school.

The delay has left the huge renovation in limbo and at least a year behind schedule. Even if the county's easement negotiations wrap up quickly, the project needs to be bid and work inside the school wouldn't begin before September or October at the earliest, said Raymond Prokop, the school district's facilities director.

"We're ready to go when those easements are in place and the permits are signed off on," he said. "But whenever attorneys are involved, it takes a lot longer than you think it would. It's pretty impossible for anybody, really, to say when the actual kick-off point will be."

Modernization of Hampstead's 47-year-old middle school, where the septic system has failed, the heating system is unpredictable and the roof leaks, had been scheduled to begin in October, with work completed by November next year. Work crews are expected to tackle the school one wing at a time as North Carroll's 690 pupils rotate in and out of a cluster of portable classrooms set aside to make up for the closed wing under construction.

Delaying the renovation by a year or more worsens conditions for pupils who complain of a foul odor caused by the septic system, of needing to wear gloves during class and of a roof that allows large puddles to form inside the building during heavy rains.

"These problems should have been handled many, many years ago," said Don Pyles, Carroll's director of middle schools. "The building has not been conducive to offering the best possible learning environment in a modern world for quite some time. Any further delay compounds the problem. How long do you want students to go to a school that doesn't even have a functioning septic system?"

The school's septic system failed about a year ago and athletic fields where sewage seeped up were temporarily closed. Since then, the school system has paid contractors to haul sewage from the school daily.

Construction cannot begin until all easements for the entire project, including extension of public sewer and water lines to the school, have been acquired.

The county Health Department will not approve the building permit until required utility work is imminent. And, in granting conditional approval of the project's site plan last week, the county planning commission also insisted that "no building permit of any kind be issued for school modernization until all utility easements have been acquired for construction of the water and sewer lines," according to minutes of the meeting.

County Public Works Director Doug Myers said that his department is "closing in" on easements from two of the four holdout landowners. He declined to name the property owners or explain why they are reluctant to grant the county use of their yards to install the sewer pipe and maintain it as needed. Landowners typically are paid for such use of their property.

"I can't say what's holding it up," Myers said. "We're in ongoing negotiations."

He also could not say when he expects work to begin, adding, "When you're in negotiations, it's anybody's guess."

Prokop said his staff is trying to make the best use of the unexpected time on its hands. He might bid out site work that needs to be done outside the school, start reconfiguring the bus loop and begin readying and lining up the outdoor wing of portable classrooms.

"That way we can be as prepared as we can be," Prokop said. "Projects have to gain momentum, and it's difficult, from a dead stop, to suddenly jump forward. We're certainly concerned, but we have been concerned all along with this."

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