Board OKs school renovation by volunteers


It was an offer the Anne Arundel County school board jus couldn't turn down -- $500,000 worth of renovations to Jessup Elementary School that won't require a dime from the school system construction budget.

After delays, red tape and lengthy discussion surrounding who would be liable for faulty work or injury to parent and community volunteers who would do the work, the school board voted 5-0 last night in favor of its first such all-volunteer project.

Board members Michael A. Pace and student member Jay Witcher were absent.

"The determination you have shown is absolutely amazing," School Superintendent C. Berry Carter II told Steve Kendall, the parent who spearheaded the project. "Your ability to stick to it is tremendous, and I commend you."

The project started out as a way to get families involved with the school and to build walls to eliminate "antiquated open classrooms," said Mr. Kendall. Now, 357 of 462 families who have students in the school have volunteered their time or talents or donated to the project.

Jessup Principal Preston Hebron noted he was sent to the

school four years ago to turn it around.

"Four years ago, parents were ready to tear down the school; now they're ready to go to work for the school," said Mr. Hebron.

The group plans to install a sprinkler system, carpet, air conditioning in the gym and cafeteria, and build walls to close off classrooms.

Mr. Kendall has predicted that with oversight from Board of Education construction managers, the parents can complete the work in three months. The only cost to the school system will be staff members' time, something that would have been provided even if an outside contractor was used.

School board member Dorothy Chaney closely questioned staff member Bill Peacock and P. Tyson Bennett, an attorney, on liability issues.

Mr. Bennett said it was acceptable for volunteers to sign waivers they would not seek workman's compensation if injured on the job, and for contractors to use their businesses' liability insurance to cover any job errors.

Mr. Bennett said the final obstacle was the board's faith in whether the parents can perform the work they're promising.

"I know it's a new thing, and I know there's a risk, but I'm willing to take it," said board member Jo Ann Tollenger.

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