Teachers, pupils, staff do the classroom shuffle

Renovations empty wing at North Carroll Middle

Carroll County

January 30, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin and Mary Gail Hare | Jennifer McMenamin and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The staff arrived at North Carroll Middle School in jeans and sweat shirts yesterday, ready to move.

On the eve of an $18.2 million modernization project, teachers, administrators, custodians, pupils and parents scrambled to empty a wing of the 48-year-old school so renovations could begin.

They stripped the seventh-grade wing to the walls and moved those classes to the sixth-grade wing. The sixth grade moved into a mini-campus of portable classrooms on the front lawn of the school, which is between Hampstead and Manchester.

The school remains closed today, according to the school system's Web site.

"I have the lake view," science teacher Paula Alisauckas said of her window overlooking a community pond. To give her portable classroom a cozy look, she hung colorful curtains. "We will be here a year and a half. I am trying to make the students feel at home."

Tyler Lyons, a seventh-grader who volunteered yesterday, washed desks while his mother, Donna Lyons, set up a lunch of "energy food" for the faculty.

"We want to do everything we can to help," she said. "This move has been a long time coming, and we are all ready for it. We will help them move back, too."

Teachers are accustomed to moving from one classroom or school to another. But this is grand-scale relocation: Fewer than 10 of the 45 teachers in the school, which has more than 700 pupils, will not be uprooted.

The art classroom was emptied and all the supplies moved. Art teacher Valerie Estes came up with tiltable "lap boards" to give budding artists individual workspaces. The walls of her temporary classroom, once a science laboratory, are lined with shelves and storage bins filled with art supplies.

"It is starting to come together," she said. "At first, I thought, `How will I ever make this work?'"

The band instructor moved into the emptied art room, which is about two-thirds the size of his former quarters and has much less storage.

"I may have to use a shoe horn to get everything in there," said band instructor Mike Hirsh, who wondered facetiously if the overflow might fit somewhere in the principal's office.

And the weight-fitness room moved from the school's auxiliary gym into the main gymnasium, or, more specifically, on the stage behind a curtain.

"We just started a drama club," said Principal Carl Snook. "Their first production will have to involve pumping iron."

Doug Blacksten, the physical education teacher, said that although he had lost his weight room, he was determined to continue the course.

"We want to make sure the kids get to do all the same things they did before this work started," Blacksten said.

The first round of renovations is affecting everyone. Some teachers will share classroom space. Others moved everything to the portables, which the county spent $150,000 to improve. Those who didn't move this time can look forward to it in the near future.

"It is a major organizational feat," Snook said. "Obviously, to move a school in midstream, you have to have the right attitude to do that."

The second phase begins this spring, when the media center will be emptied. Snook and his administrative staff will be kicked out of their offices during the summer -- probably moving to Manchester Elementary. And in October, when renovations on the seventh-grade wing are finished, teachers will again swap rooms so another phase can begin. It will be fall 2005 before the work is done.

"Just don't ask me where we're moving the office-supply closets. We don't have that worked out yet," Snook joked this week, after a winter storm delayed the move three days.

There are bound to be more taxing dilemmas. Having band class in an art room, surrounded by technology education classrooms, promises to raise the noise level in that wing.

"We are laying carpet to mute the sounds," Snook said. "But maybe we should have something on the walls, too."

The cafeteria could be another hurdle, but "I assure you, we will figure it out," Snook said.

Despite the headaches and backaches, the renovation project brings a smile to the principal. "We're delighted just to be at this part," Snook said. "We've been trying to get here for years and years."

Renovation at North Carroll Middle is long overdue.

The roof leaks. Temperatures in the building fluctuate wildly from room to room. Unreliable electrical systems sometimes force teachers to unplug classroom appliances to run computers without interruption. And the septic system failed nearly two years ago, forcing the county to haul waste several times a week to Westminster.

"The school is falling apart," said eighth-grader Emily Shreeve, who helped move three of her teachers. "This work really needs to happen.

"I won't be here when it's finally done, but I plan to come back and see it all," she said.

The renovation has been on the books for years and in the budget since spring 2002, when the state Board of Public Works approved funding. But preparations stalled after the county couldn't secure easements needed to connect the school to the public sewer system.

With the renovation at least a year behind schedule, the county filed condemnation lawsuits in July against three remaining holdout landowners. One settled quickly, but the two other cases were not resolved until September.

All those involved with the renovation said their overriding feeling was relief.

"We can all make do because there is a light at the end of this tunnel -- a new facility that will get us caught up with the new century," Blacksten said.

The new semester begins Monday.

"The kids have all been a big help, and they are excited to come back," said Maria Garlitz, a language arts teacher. "This will be like the first day of school for them."

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