Schools struggle to dry off, clean out fridges

Sun Staff

Confronting flooded buildings and spoiled food, dozens of Baltimore-area schools still reeling from Tropical Storm Isabel struggled yesterday to pump basements, assess damage and throw away soured milk.

Many schools untouched by the storm reopened without incident, and officials said almost all schools in the region would be open today. But some continue to grapple with the storm's effects.

Among the school systems with the most serious lingering problems was Baltimore County, where senior staffers at the district headquarters needed to open blinds to light their offices and where Sollers Point Technical High School in Dundalk inventoried waterlogged auto body and welding equipment.

An auxiliary building at the school, near the Peach Orchard Creek, was flooded with 4 feet of water, Principal Edward J. Fangman said. The auto collision and welding shops there lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in tools and machines.

"My guess is it will all have to be scrapped and replaced," said Fangman.

In addition, the boiler room in the school's main building was flooded by the storm. The boilers functioned yesterday after the room was pumped over the weekend. But water was being removed from a crawl space under the building.

Thirty-one of Baltimore County's 163 schools, two dozen in Anne Arundel County and 14 in Baltimore lacked power yesterday, along with Norrisville Elementary, Roye-Williams Elementary and Harford Tech High in Harford County, and Glenelg High and Atholton Elementary in Howard County.

The prolonged absence of electricity prompted school cafeterias to discard spoiled food as Maryland State Department of Education staff criss-crossed the state to inspect kitchens and make sure conditions were sanitary.

State education officials said it was too early to decide whether school systems could apply to waive snow days lost because of the storm.

Meanwhile, school officials from Annapolis to Westminster met throughout the day to review damage and road conditions and to decide which shuttered schools would reopen today.

Anne Arundel schools were expected to reopen today, but officials said two elementary schools were without electricity last night. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. crews were at those schools, and officials said they hope to open them this morning, along with the rest of the county's 117 schools.

No Anne Arundel schools suffered significant damage from Isabel, but a few had minor flooding. Maintenance crews worked yesterday to clean up the schools as cafeteria workers at dozens of schools threw out spoiled food.

Northeast High was the hardest hit, losing about a week's worth of food even though workers had packed some refrigerators and freezers with dry ice. All schools are equipped to serve full meals today, but some will not be serving what is on the planned menu.

Meanwhile, school transportation officials scoured Anne Arundel's roads to make sure they were accessible to school buses.

"I just caution everybody to be very patient tomorrow," said Winship Wheatley III, transportation supervisor in the county. "I suspect there will still be some places we won't be able to service as we normally do."

Most Baltimore schools will be open today. Parents whose children attend the schools that remained closed yesterday should listen to the radio or watch television for an announcement at 5 a.m. on closings, officials said.

Although the city schools continue cleaning up debris, no school suffered major damage in the storm, said spokeswoman Edie House. Schools were closed because they were without power.

Baltimore County workers, who cleared more than 100 fallen trees from school grounds over the weekend, spent yesterday helping schools recalibrate computer and security systems that went haywire when electricity was restored.

County schools with power yesterday afternoon - 140 schools - will reopen today, but school officials worried about children in the eastern part of the county leaving homes that were without electricity or damaged by flooding.

Students living in Bowleys Quarters, which experienced heavy flooding, and riding buses to Eastern Technical High, Kenwood High and Middle River Middle were asked to pick up buses at Bayville and Carroll Island roads or the Bowleys Quarters Volunteer Fire Department. They will be returned there at the end of the day.

"We need to make sure we get them back safely," said Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, whose home was struck by a fallen tree.

All 14 Carroll County public schools that had lost power were back up and ready to open yesterday morning.

The last school to regain electricity - Runnymede Elementary between Westminster and Taneytown - was back online at 1 a.m. yesterday, and the whole school system reopened on schedule.

School administrators used the district's two freezer trucks to save almost all cafeteria food stock, said Stephen Guthrie, the school system's assistant superintendent of administration.

And minor wind damage - roof shingles that pulled off and a rubber concession stand roof that rolled up - is being repaired, he said.

"We thought we'd get a lot of wind and not as much rain, and we're thankful that happened the way it did. I know a lot of counties are still without power, but as a school system, we fared very well," Guthrie said.

Spokesman Donald R. Morrison said all of Harford County's 50 public schools were closed yesterday because about 40 county roads remained blocked by downed trees or wires Sunday evening.

While the three Harford schools without power yesterday will remain closed today, the rest will be open. Officials said bus transportation may be limited in some areas because of downed trees and power lines.

School buildings in Harford suffered little damage, save for the loss of food and minor flooding, Morrison said.

Similarly, Howard County schools reported only minor damage from wind and rain. Spokesman Patti Caplan expected both schools that lacked power yesterday to reopen this morning if power returned and they passed a 5 a.m. inspection.

Sun staff writers Liz Bowie, Larry Carson, Laura Loh, Jennifer McMenamin and Ted Shelsby contributed to this article.

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