Old school, new beginning

North Carroll Middle nears completion of a $20 million modernization, the first in its history.

September 11, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

Like kids in a candy store, the visitors oohed and aahed about new chairs, new floors, new computers and all the other new accouterments they discovered as they made their way from classroom to classroom along a renovated wing of North Carroll Middle School.

During back-to-school night last week, the school's staff and pupils welcomed about 300 parents to ogle the results of the school's $20 million modernization project, which is in its third and final phase.

The project is expected to be completed in November, said Ray Prokop, director of facilities. In the final phase, the sixth-grade wing of the three-wing building will be renovated.

The modernization project is the first overhaul of the nearly 50-year-old school, which has about 750 pupils.

"It's so much brighter," said Barbara Shreeve, whose son Ryan, 12, is in seventh grade. "It's almost like it has gone from a slum school to this. Before, tiles were falling off the ceiling. We had water spots all over the place. You couldn't drink out of the water fountains. Now, it's bright, clean and wonderful."

Only the foundation and major masonry walls have remained mostly unchanged, Prokop said.

"Even some of the masonry walls have been tweaked," he said. Everything else - from the roof to the shiny hardwood gym floors - is being replaced.

The consumer life science classroom has doubled in size and now includes modern appliances at half a dozen kitchen workstations. The band and music classrooms are outfitted with high ceilings and acoustical tiles on the walls to absorb sound; now there are desk chairs designed for musicians.

"Last year, I just had chairs and we used books [on pupils' laps] for desktops," said music teacher Maryann Villa. "I have lots of storage and bookshelves. Now when we do projects, we don't have to dig through boxes for books. They are on display on the shelves."

Two of the biggest attractions for pupils are the new cafeteria and the lockers that line the hallways.

"I like that all our friends can be together [for lunch] instead of being spread across three rooms," Ryan Shreeve said.

Last year, lunch was accommodated in four science classrooms. One room served as the kitchen. Pupils were squished into three neighboring classrooms to eat.

During the first two phases of the renovation, which started early last year, pupils were left with no lockers and had to carry all their books and other school supplies.

"I love that we have bigger lockers now," said Victoria Guthart, 13, an eighth-grader.

Road to renovation

The North Carroll community has traveled a long road to get this project done.

When North Carroll Middle opened in 1956 between Hampstead and Manchester on Hanover Road, it housed middle and high school pupils.

Then North Carroll High opened in 1976. It was widely agreed then that the aging middle school was in need of work.

Among the problems that developed over the years, the school had a leaky roof, an unreliable heating system and faulty electrical systems that sometimes forced teachers to unplug classroom appliances so that computers could run without interruption. Eventually sewage had to be trucked from the building's failed septic system.

For about four years leading up to the start of the renovation, pupils were eating off paper plates during lunch because the kitchen staff had limited water use, said Carmela Guthart, president of the school's parent-teacher organization. To cut down on the amount of sewage that would need to be trucked away, the kitchen staff limited its dishwashing to pots and pans, she said.

Despite the problems, the project sat on the back burner for about 25 years.

As the General Assembly opened in early 2002, parents and pupils who worried that the project might get scuttled again peppered state officials with 500 letters pleading for funding. The effort paid off when state officials budgeted $2.5 million toward the renovation.

North Carroll had cleared a major hurdle, but not its last.

Second setback

When negotiations stalled between the county and landowners whose properties would be dug up to lay sewer lines to the school, the project was delayed by a year.

Again, the community rallied and organized a protest of the landowners, who included the owners of a golf course and a nearby house. Just three hours after protesters planted themselves at the entrance to the Oakmont Green Golf Club, the landowners agreed to allow sewer lines to be laid across their properties.

In the fall of 2003, with the easement issues settled, school officials resuscitated the project.

"For years, people here have been passive and settled for not getting much," said parent Linda King, whose youngest daughter, Caroline, is an eighth-grader. "But Carmela [Guthart] was instrumental ... in getting people to realize that this was attainable and we could get it done if we came together as a community."

As parents, staff and pupils soaked up all the changes last week, they found treasures in even the subtlest details.

Take the school's sign - which had sat unchanged for nearly three decades - that neatly bears the building's name.

"After the high school was built, the sign said, `North Carroll blank Middle School," King said. "They just took out the two words - high school - and left the blank."

But this summer, she said, the contractors erected a new sign.

"Now it says, `North Carroll Middle School," King declared.

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