Some Arundel schools openings delayed because of construction

Belle Grove Elementary is one of two schools temporarily moving while renovations take place

August 21, 2010|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Belle Grove Elementary prides itself on being a neighborhood school that its Brooklyn Park students traditionally walk to. But this year, students will arrive to school by bus — to a temporary location, Lindale Middle School in Linthicum.

That's because as Anne Arundel County schools officially reconvene Monday, Belle Grove is among 76 schools in the county that will begin the year under construction and one of two schools that will be housed in different locations.

The construction projects, major and minor, will mean that the school system, which often employs staggered openings for its youngest students, will undergo delayed openings as well.

Anne Arundel school officials say that more than 75,500 students — a county record and about 800 more than last year — are projected to be enrolled this year.

On Monday, most county students in first through fifth, sixth and ninth grades will begin classes. Most other students will begin school Tuesday. Kindergarten openings are staggered, based on individual students. By the first Tuesday after Labor Day, all Anne Arundel students will be in school.

Schools spokesman Melvin Edwards said about $43.5 million of the county schools' capital budget of $131 million was spent this year "on typical summer projects like roof repairs, painting, HVAC and open-space classroom enclosures." The rest was spent on the larger renovation projects, he said.

First occupied in 1952, Belle Grove is undergoing a modernization that will almost double its gross square footage and increase its state-rated capacity from the current 206 students to 314. Another elementary school undergoing construction, Folger McKinsey in Severna Park, will house its students in a portion of Chesapeake Bay Middle School in Pasadena. The two are among 18 Anne Arundel schools whose construction projects will delay their openings to Tuesday.

On Monday, Belle Grove will host the first of two Back to School nights at Lindale Middle (the other is scheduled Sept. 16). Monday's event is expected to give parents and students an opportunity to tour the temporary facility.

In the meantime, work continues through the corridors of Lindale Middle, as workers have spent much of the summer redesigning classrooms, offices and restrooms. Last week, a few tables, filing cabinets, boxes of books and computers still occupied the long hallway leading to the main office.

"At the beginning of the summer, when we first moved, we had boxes in the hallways packed to the ceiling," said Belle Grove Principal Adrienne J. Taylor. "We've come a long way. The crew of workers have been excellent in moving things right along."

Anne Arundel school officials say that 22 of the county's construction projects are major in scope, everything from revitalization to gymnasium and kindergarten additions. All other projects, which include roof replacements or building repairs, are minor, they said.

Belle Grove's modernization is expected to take about two years to complete, which means its students will spend considerable time at Lindale.

Lindale is large enough to accommodate both schools without affecting its operations or students much, officials say. According to Edwards, the school can hold 1,334 students; Belle Grove has 189 and Lindale has 830. Lindale's students will begin Monday like other middle school students in the county.

But for Belle Grove students, perhaps the biggest adjustment will be riding four school buses, all separate from those that Lindale students use.

"At our old location … only the kindergarten and pre-K children rode the bus," said Taylor, who is entering her 10th year as Belle Grove principal. "All other children were walkers. The parents had easy access to the school. It was truly a neighborhood school.

"With change, parents are quite anxious that their children not only will be riding a bus but they're coming to a site far away from home," Taylor added. "They would like to see the location and the setup."

She said that during Monday evening's Back to School Night, Belle Grove hopes to use two buses to shuttle parents and their children from Brooklyn Park to Lindale Middle so they can experience the route for themselves.

Taylor said that the smaller space means that storage is limited and some of the larger furniture brought over from Belle Grove will not be used. Taylor added that Belle Grove and Lindale teachers will share a faculty lounge, and a health room has been constructed for Belle Grove.

"We have had to adjust and really think through some designs," Taylor added. "We had to bring everything up to code for an elementary school." Still, she said that the relocation has begun without a glitch.

"This transition has been very comfortable," she said. "It has not really been a challenge. Some inconveniences, but not challenges."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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