Jessup Elementary School parents deserve credit. Not only have they organized Anne Arundel County's first volunteer school renovation, they've conquered the mountain of school bureaucracy that stood in their way.
For a while, it seemed the school board was determined to squelch the group's volunteer spirit. Parents wanted to donate $500,000 in time, materials and money to renovate the school, but instead of enthusiasm, they were met with worried frowns, questions about liability and other red tape. Board members spent so much time debating the nitty-gritty of who would pay if something went wrong that they almost ruined the project's chances of being finished this summer. In the end, however, the school board had the good sense to give the parents its blessing.
The board may expect to see more volunteer endeavors. The county, after all, is behind on its school construction program. Plus, with a voter-approved property tax cap costing the county millions in revenues from now on, there will not be enough money to go around to all the communities that want new schools, additions or renovations.
County Executive Robert R. Neall's fiscal year 1994 capital school program makes clear that projects designed to relieve critical overcrowding will come first. That means improvements to buildings that are merely functionally obsolete, such as Jessup with its open-space classrooms, will have to wait.
If people care enough to do the work themselves, and they show they can do the work, why should the powers that be object?
The proof is in the pudding, of course. But you have to be optimistic that the Jessup project will turn out well considering how the community has rallied behind it. Some 357 of 462 families with children at school, including contractors, carpenters and architects, are participating. They've recruited local businesses, too. As for liability, that problem was solved simply by having volunteers sign waivers and having contractors use their businesses' liability insurance.
As board member Jo Ann Tollenger noted, volunteer school hTC construction is a new idea that does entail a risk. But, in limited cases and in political and economic climates like the current one, it's an idea that has merit. We're glad to see the school board at least willing to give it a try.