For some students, a fresh start at new schools

School was poised to start in several area jurisdictions Monday, but Howard County officials got a head start Sunday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new $34 million Ducketts Lane Elementary School in Elkridge.

"It's truly a 21st-century learning facility," said Howard County school board Chairman Frank Aquino. "The building is designed to inspire creative and interactive learning, both within and beyond the classroom. The facility integrates beautifully with its environment."

Hundreds of parents, students and school and county officials attended Sunday's preview of the first school in Howard to achieve a gold standard in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Built on a 10-acre campus, the school features several outdoor classrooms — both a science courtyard and teaching courtyard — and a wetlands observation area with a stormwater management pond and a boardwalk path. Fifth-grade teacher Katherine Kidds said she was excited her students can receive more hands-on science education.

"I'm really looking forward to teaching science because there's all these outdoor resources," she said. "It all ties in with the curriculum, so it's really nice."

Ducketts Lane is one of several new public schools opening Monday in area jurisdictions.

In Baltimore County, school officials are showing off the system's biggest addition this fall — the $80 million combined campuses of Dundalk and Sollers Point Technical high schools. The new school was built on the campus of the former Dundalk High, and includes a new 500-seat auditorium, health/fitness and music suites, automotive, construction and maritime labs, a cosmetology suite and a culinary arts cafe.

The new year is a homecoming of sorts for students at Stoneleigh Elementary School in Towson. Last year the school packed up and moved to temporary digs at a vacant school building so construction could be undertaken in earnest on a $16.6 million renovation project. The result is essentially a new school layout and expanded capacity.

A $19 million addition at Hampton Elementary School, also in the Towson area, is opening today. That project has been under construction since summer 2011.

In Carroll County, the school system is opening the new 750-seat Mount Airy Middle School, a $30 million facility that replaces the former Mount Airy Middle. That school had been bursting at the seams at more than 150 students above capacity.

Anne Arundel County isn't adding new schools this year, but is opening two that have had major renovations.

At Point Pleasant Elementary School in Glen Burnie, $29 million was spent to convert the two-building campus into a more conventional school, said Bob Mosier, a school system spokesman. One of the buildings was expanded and renovated to house the school, while the smaller building is now dedicated to administrative offices and community programs.

Students and families will get their first looks at the school during a ribbon-cutting ceremony and tour Monday afternoon, before classes start Tuesday.

In Annapolis, the Phoenix Academy for students with behavioral issues is moving to a building that used to house Germantown Elementary School. After a new Germantown school opened in 2011, the old building was converted to become the home for Phoenix at a cost of $23 million.

In addition to county funding, many of the new and renovated school projects benefited from an increased focus on state spending for school construction, including $370 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Education. Another $335 million from the state is budgeted for school construction for the current fiscal year.

Reinhard said having modern school buildings with state-of-the-art technology is important for students.

"Local school systems have always had to balance fiscal responsibility with providing new facilities, but the tech boom has made these decisions more important," he said. "New schools and classrooms wired and outfitted with the latest technology offer real aid to instruction."

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