The industrial-green paint is peeling inside the darkened hallways of the old New Windsor Middle School, where crews are working to transform the three-story brick building for use as government offices.
The town of New Windsor, the Carroll County sheriff's office and other government agencies have asked for or are considering using this space. Renovations are expected to require two years or more to complete, officials said.
The brick building on Route 75 was constructed in 1936 for first through 12th grades, was a middle school until the 1990s and finally was turned over to the county as surplus, said W. Carey Gaddis, county schools spokeswoman.
But the halls, stairways and classrooms once were filled with students. And on one day, recalled V. Lanny Harchenhorn, 62, a former Carroll state's attorney and delegate, the halls reeked of burning plastic after some older kids decided to test the rumor that "a burning pingpong ball made just about the worst smell in the world."
Regina G. Roop, 78, was a first-grade teacher there for 25 1/2 years, when class sizes ranged from 36 to 50 pupils. She doesn't recall the pingpong-ball trial, but verified another tale involving Harchenhorn.
"He went home and told his mother he wasn't going back to school anymore because his teacher didn't know anything," Roop said.
"I remember like it was yesterday," said Harchenhorn, explaining that his teacher had a chart of squirrels and was asking her 6-year-old pupils, "What color is this squirrel?'
"I told my mother, `She's dumb. She has to ask me' - and I thought she really didn't know," he said, laughing.
"You never, ever really hear the end of things in New Windsor," said Harchenhorn, who attended the school from 1949 until Francis Scott Key High School opened in 1959. "It was a wonderful school. I regretted that I couldn't graduate from there."
H. Cassell Roop, 78, a former grocer, mayor and a town councilman for 26 years, entered the one-year-old school in 1937, said Regina Roop, his wife of 55 years.
Although the school included first through 12th grades when it opened and was a middle school when it first closed, it was known locally as the high school, she said.
Gaddis said an addition was built in 1951, and the school later became strictly a middle school until 1995. After that, it housed pupils during construction at Elmer Wolfe Elementary School for two years, then shut its classrooms for good and was turned over to the county.
Steven D. Powell, the county commissioners' chief of staff, said no decision has been made about who will use the new office space - the sheriff, the town or other county departments.
The cost of renovating the 43,000 square feet ranges from $4 million to $5 million, he said, depending on its eventual use.
This year, consultant Rosser International Inc. of Atlanta reviewed the sheriff's services and broached the possibility of expanding or building a new detention center for the county.
If new jail space were built, Powell said, the sheriff might remain in Westminster.
"You need one domino to fall before anything goes into place," he said. "There's been no final determination. ... There are a lot of potential uses."
Ralph E. Green, the county's director of general services, said the interior demolition is expected to be completed by next month.
The architectural design could be completed in about six months, and construction is expected to take 1 1/2 to two years.
"We're just in phase one of the operation," Green said. "We are gutting the interior, removing all the lead paint, asbestos, whatever is in the building - old plumbing, heating, electrical."
"The town is interested, the sheriff is interested, there are some administrative offices the county might use," he added, calling the project "an upgrade of the building into modern administrative offices for governmental use."
Col. Robert Keefer of the sheriff's office said, "We have not officially been told that's where we're going."
Keefer shares an office with Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning in cramped quarters below the jail and across from courthouses where they provide security. The domestic-violence unit and child-support office would remain at the courthouse annex building, he said.
Tregoning refused to comment when asked whether he wants to move to the site, about 10 miles from Westminster.
"We need to be expanded," the sheriff said. "As far as physical location, that's up to the county commissioners, not me. I am confident they will make the right decision once they have all the information."
New Windsor Mayor Sam Pierce asked months ago for space in the renovated school.
"It is still very much up in the air," Pierce said. "We contacted the county to try to work out an arrangement to get a couple, three rooms for possible use as town offices, public works. We thought it would be a good place for community rooms."
New space needed
In any case, he said, New Windsor needs new space for its town hall. Other possibilities include building a new town hall, remodeling the existing space on High Street or moving next door into the fire hall when the fire company moves into its new building.
Councilman Neal C. Roop - son of Cassell and Regina - said the town offices are on the second floor, next to the fire hall, and are not handicapped-accessible.
The new fire company building on Atlee Avenue could open by August, said Councilman Edwin Palsgrove, a 22-year member of the New Windsor Fire Company. The skeletal frame of the new firehouse stands behind the old school.
Powell said the county also has talked to the town.
"There's definitely a need for this administrative space, so there's no concern about the space being used," he said.