School move faces delay

Arson fires have damaged new Marley Elementary

Five charged in blazes

Building was scheduled to open in January

Anne Arundel

October 07, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The arson fires at the new Marley Elementary School last week likely will delay its opening beyond the scheduled January date, Anne Arundel school system administrators told the school board yesterday.

Word of the delay came at a meeting at which five board members also approved a $78.7 million capital budget request that includes money to study options for a new school or school programs in the Crofton area, prompted by a push for a new high school by a developer and several neighborhood associations.

The capital request will be forwarded to the state, which will determine how much construction funding the school system will get next year.

The delayed opening of Marley Elementary will force children to remain in the school building across the parking lot while repairs are made to the building under construction.

Three adults and two minors were charged with setting 10 fires Sept. 28, said Bill Wise, assistant superintendent of facilities planning, construction and management. The suspects are accused of starting eight fires using cardboard wrapping construction materials and two others by lighting flammable paint products on the floor.

Classroom wings sustained no damage, although the media center had graffiti on the walls. Officials are still assessing the extent of the fire damage, which county fire inspectors estimated to be $1.5 million.

Assistant Superintendent Gregory V. Nourse told board members that the necessary repairs will reduce or eliminate the $500,000 in surplus construction funds included in the proposed capital budget. The school system and county are responsible for the $250,000 deductible in the county commercial insurance policy covering the building. The school system is responsible for $25,000 and the county $225,000.

Wise said that cleaning and repairs began as soon as non-emergency personnel could enter the building. Visibly damaged material, including 150 square feet of the building's roof, has been removed.

Much still needs to be cleaned, however, including surfaces above the ceiling that were not painted and absorbed smoke, Wise said. As a result, the Nov. 4 completion date and the December move-in date cannot be met.

Board member Eugene Peterson asked whether the school system should consider hiring a private security company.

Nourse said the project's contractor had hired a security company to guard the site after minor incidents of graffiti. However, no one was on the scene at the time of the fire, said Division Chief John M. Scholz of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department.

Separately, as part of the capital budget discussion, board member Michael G. Leahy proposed adding money to study how the addition of a high school in Crofton would affect the school system.

Last month, Silver Spring developer Warren E. Halle, who wants to build a rubble landfill, offered a number of incentives, including a public high school, a community swimming pool and 500-acre park, to several neighborhood associations. The Greater Crofton Council approved such an agreement, but no formal proposal has been presented to the county officials.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith said he has an appointment with the parties involved to discuss the idea.

Several board members expressed concerns about considering an additional high school, particularly in a specific area, without exploring other options such as magnet schools or redistricting.

"I don't think the board should get caught between the county and a developer who wants to build a rubble dump," said member Paul G. Rudolph.

In other business, board members learned about revisions to a proposal to increase from 22 to 26 the number of credits required for high school graduation. The issue will come before the board again at its next meeting, Oct. 20, said Nancy Mann, assistant superintendent for instruction.

Nine schools also received recognition at the meeting for their performance in the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support program, in which schools implement "student-specific" discipline plans designed to improve school safety.

The state Department of Education named Brooklyn Park, Harman, Hilltop and Tyler Heights elementary schools; MacArthur and Meade middle schools; Meade High School; Mary E. Moss Academy; and the Children's Guild at Annapolis Middle School as exemplar schools. The designation is based on on-site visits by program leaders and interviews by experts.

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