Padonia International Elementary is slated to receive a $5 million-plus addition and renovation by August 2018 that will add 12 rooms that officials said will help address capacity problems at the school, which is one of the most crowded in the county.
Construction will begin within the next 30 days, according to Greg Marks, project manager for Baltimore-based North Point Builders Inc., the contractor completing the project. The $5.2 million contract was awarded by the Board of Education Dec. 20, with a contingency of up to $5.7 million.
The project will relieve a "capacity situation" at the school, said Pete Dixit, the director of physical facilities for Baltimore County Public Schools. Currently, 526 students are enrolled at Padonia, though the school's state-rated capacity is for 311 students.
The not-yet finalized state-rated capacity for the building once renovations are complete will be 483 students, Dixit said.
Sanjay Sharma, the school's Parent Teacher Association president, said he knows of residents who have left the community because of conditions at the Padonia International Elementary related to overcrowding, such as the use of trailers for classrooms.
"This area was getting the step child treatment," by school officials, said Sharma, who added that he is glad to see the renovation project moving forward.
The project will include an eight-classroom addition, convert the gym into four rooms, expand the parking lot and enlarge the cafeteria by removing its stage, according to county school officials.
Padonia is the most crowded elementary school in the central area of the county, according to the latest school system enrollment projections, from May 2016. Nearby Warren Elementary School and Timonium Elementary School are also over capacity but to a smaller degree, while Mays Chapel Elementary and Pot Spring Elementary schools are slightly under capacity.
Enrollment at Padonia is projected to continue to grow by a few percentage points until 2020, and will then decline slightly in the first half of the 2020's, according to the school system's projection.
Board of Education member Kathleen Causey, who represents the district that includes Padonia, said she has heard from parents at the school who are concerned about the safety of their children when moving between the main school building and the eight portable trailers used as classrooms.
The addition and renovation are definitely warranted because of the overcrowding, Causey added.
"Based on our current [enrollment] it's still going to be a little tight, but we're going to be in a much better position," she said, adding that the project will allow officials to remove the eight portable units.
Sharma said the community initially was concerned that the county was going to proceed with a project to add eight, rather than 12, rooms to the school. School officials presented that option at a Sept. 6 community meeting, according to Sharma, adding that many parents believed the plan was insufficient to address the overcrowding.
County officials sent a request for bids for the smaller option to contractors in September, also asking for estimates for a larger expansion as an "add alternate."
When officials heard from contractors with cost estimates for the work, the estimates for the larger renovation and addition option — an eight-classroom addition and four-room renovation, for a total of 12 rooms — was within the county's budget of roughly $5 million for the project, Dixit said. The Board of Education then approved that project.
"I think that this increases the morale, not only of the teachers but the folks in the community," Sharma said of the 12-room project, adding that he hopes the addition will help the school become one of the top schools in the area.
A real lunch time
Principal Melissa DiDonato also believes that the renovation and addition are needed.
"The idea of having everybody actually in the school building is very exciting not only to myself, but the teachers and the students and families," she said.
Kathleen MacCubbin, of Cockeysville, said her son, who attends third grade at Padonia, has class in a trailer, adding that she would prefer his classroom be in the school building. Students must spend a lot of time moving between the trailers and the school to use the bathroom or attend special classes, such as music or art, she said.
"Certainly that's not ideal," MacCubbin said.
In addition, for security reasons the doors to the trailers are locked, as are doors to the school, so students moving between the trailers and the main building must always be escorted, DiDonato said, adding that having students under one roof will hopefully reassure parents about their child's safety and security.
The addition will feature three classrooms for pre-kindergartners and five for kindergartners, according to Dixit. The rooms will be equipped with bathrooms, which will save instructors time and energy that might otherwise be used for bathroom breaks, DiDonato said.
The gym will be converted into an instrumental music room and a vocal/choral room, in addition to two other rooms, according to school officials. Offices and faculty areas will also be added. Students will instead use the gym at the neighboring Police Athletic League Center, or PAL Center, which is connected to the school by a walkway.
More space will be added to the school's cafeteria by removing the stage. The PAL Center also has a stage for the school to use, DiDonato said.
At present, lunch time for students stretches from 10:55 a.m. to 1:10 p.m. to ensure that too many students are not in the cafeteria at once. The expansion will add space, and shorten that period.
"We'll actually have a lunch time that's really a lunch time," DiDonato said.
The school's kitchen will also be expanded by adding a new exterior wall, she added. DiDonato said she also expects the expanded parking lot will improve traffic flow at drop-off and pick-up times.
The county is seeking state funding to help pay for the project.
In the current fiscal year, the county received $970,000 from the state to help pay for the renovation. The county has requested $1.6 million from the state in fiscal 2018 for the project, which is 13th on the school system's list of capital priorities. That list includes 37 other projects, for which county officials are requesting $134.8 million in funding for new schools, renovations, air conditioning installation and other items from the state.
According to Causey, the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction has recommended approving the $1.6 million request for the coming fiscal year, adding that a final decision on the funding will be made by the state Board of Public Works in May. The board, which makes spending decisions for Maryland, is composed of Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp. If the county doesn't get the money this year it can make requests in subsequent years, Causey added.
The addition and renovation will be substantially completed by August of 2018, according to Dixit.