Final touches put on school

After decades of waiting, renovations nearly complete at North Carroll Middle


North Carroll Middle School's wait nearly over While school is closed for the next two days at North Carroll Middle School, employees will be adding finishing touches and moving desks and other equipment into the sixth-grade wing - the third and final phase of a nearly $20 million modernization project.

"We're very excited and relieved" to have the project completed, said Robert J. Lenz, the school's assistant principal. "The school has all the current technology. ... And it looks great."

Pupils will be out of school tomorrow and Tuesday while teachers and staff spend time organizing classrooms and the final shipments of furniture and equipment are delivered, Lenz said.

"On Wednesday, we'll be ready to roll," he said.

Construction for the modernization project - finished last week and on time - is the first overhaul of the nearly 50-year-old school, which has about 750 pupils.

Only the foundation and major masonry walls have remained mostly unchanged. Everything else - from the roof to the shiny hardwood gym floors - has been replaced.

The school picked up about 5,000 square feet of new space, most of which resulted from the addition of a music suite that accommodates the band and vocal music rooms, said Al Eilbacher, the school system's construction supervisor.

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; desk chairs are designed for musicians.

Two of the biggest attractions for pupils are the new cafeteria and the lockers that line the hallways. Last year, lunch was accommodated in four science classrooms. One room served as the kitchen, while pupils were crowded 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 supplies.

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

When the school opened in 1956 between Hampstead and Manchester on Hanover Road, it housed middle- and high-school students.

When North Carroll High opened in 1976, it was widely agreed that the aging middle school was in need of work.

Among problems that had developed over the years were a leaky roof, an unreliable heating system and faulty electrical systems that sometimes forced teachers to unplug classroom appliances so 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. 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.

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.

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, including the owners of a golf course and a nearby house. 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 and began demolition in March 2004.

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