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Final approval near for new Essex school


Relief is getting closer for the aging Essex Elementary School.

The Baltimore County school board has approved a new $5 million school to replace the crowded, decrepit building on Mace Avenue. This month, the county planning board recommended the same action.

Now, only approval by County Executive Roger B. Hayden and the County Council stands in the way of replacing the 68-year-old school, which has been plagued with a variety of ailments.

"We've got tremendous problems there with toilet room odors; the urine is in the concrete. There's asbestos in there. We've got termites. It just goes on and on and on," says Keith Kelley, associate superintendent for physical facilities.

"It really is like an old car," says Principal Jean Satterfield. "Either you can't get the parts, or it's too expensive to fix."

The department studied renovating the old building as opposed to replacing it and came down on the side of a new school, according to planning manager James Kraft.

In what Mr. Kraft calls the best of both worlds, the new school will be built on the back of the current Essex school property. It won't displace the current school, so students won't have to move out during construction. The school's athletic fields will be disrupted for about a year, he says.

The new school, which will be able to accommodate 500 students, is expected to open in the fall of 1996. The existing school, one of the county's oldest, has a stated capacity of 368 students but already has 460, and enrollment is still growing, officials say.

The money for the Essex school comes from the $46 million bond referendum voters approved in November. Officials want to combine $2.7 million originally approved for a new finance building -- which was scrapped -- with more than $2 million previously allotted to renovate the old school.

In a related planning matter, administrators told the board they still favor returning the former Cromwell elementary building to a 500-student school that would relieve crowding elsewhere. The Cromwell building has been used for administrative offices for six years.

That conversion will cost about $2 million and could be completed by September 1994, says Mr. Kraft. The planning board had recommended that Cromwell continue housing administrative offices.

In other business, the board:

* Approved the establishment of a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Lansdowne High School next year. This program, described to the board as a citizenship rather than a recruitment program, will be considered an elective and take up one class period daily. The Army assumes many of the costs of the program and splits the instructors' salaries with the school system. It will cost the county about $36,000 annually for two instructors.

Although the program can accommodate 125 students at first, it must have no fewer than 100.

"Our goal is to get a mixture of students in the program," says Lansdowne Principal Patsy Holmes, adding that the program is another way to motivate youngsters to attend school and graduate.

The program stresses self-esteem, leadership and academic achievement, and it offers scholarship opportunities and career options, says Lt. Col. Joe Spicer, who coordinates the program for the Army in this area.

This is the first JROTC program in Baltimore County schools, though there are 12 programs in other counties, including five in the city and two in Howard.

* Adopted a sexual harassment policy, which brings the county into compliance with state Department of Education recommendations.

Harassment includes "any deliberate and/or repeated unwelcomed behavior of a sexual nature, whether it is verbal, nonverbal or physical," according to the policy.

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