Delays on project anger volunteers Renovations worth $500,000 in limbo WEST COUNTY -- Crofton * Odenton * Fort Meade * Gambrills


It may have been an offer the Anne Arundel County school board just couldn't turn down, but it seems to be a project the Board of Education staff can't pull off.

So says the leader of a group of volunteers that proposed doing $500,000 worth of renovations -- with donated money, materials and manpower -- to build walls within Jessup Elementary School and install sprinkler and air-conditioning systems.

"The volunteers are hot under the collar," said Steve Kendall, project manager for the Jessup Elementary School Renovation Project. "The delays, misinformation and lack of information from the Board of Education staff have cost us several suppliers, and probably the electrical contractor."

Mr. Kendall and the volunteers are so frustrated, they have called a community meeting for 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Jessup Improvement Association Hall on Route 175. They've invited the school board, Board of Education staff, County Council, county executive and any other communities "who have experienced difficulties in dealing with the Board of Education."

The project has been afflicted with delays from the start, as the school board looked into liability and other issues. But in May, the board gave the go-ahead, and the group had planned to begin closing off the open classrooms with walls by July 10.

But Mr. Kendall says misinformation about the number of electrical outlets per wall created delays in the approval of electrical drawings required for a permit. He says a Board of Education staff member initially told the group two outlets per classroom were enough; later, he says the staff advised him that they needed two outlets per wall for each classroom.

The other shoe fell recently when the Board of Education, which had agreed to pay $25,000 for a sprinkler system, advised the group that the purchase would have to be made through a bidding process. If started this week, actual work on the system, which must be completed before the walls can be built, could not begin until the second week in August -- one week before school reopens for teachers.

"At that rate, we'd have to do the project during school, but the electrical contractor said it would take him six weekends to install all those electrical outlets if we do it that way, and he's not willing to do that," Mr. Kendall said.

"I think when you're talking about a gift of roughly $500,000 that the Board of Education could have walked us through this a little better. If this is the way they do things, no wonder everything costs so much. I hope that's all it is, that it's something new. If somebody's just trying to stop us, then somebody needs to be fired and replaced."

But Nancy Jane Adams, a spokeswoman for the school system, said the staff has been trying to cooperate with the volunteers.

"There have been little holdups along the way, but not necessarily on our part," Ms. Adams said. "It's just the way things happen sometimes. The work can be done during the school year, similar projects have been done. It can be accomplished. If everybody stays with it, it's going to get done, and Jessup will be the better for it."

Preston Hebron, principal at Jessup Elementary, hasn't given up hope either.

"Frustration is mild compared to what we're really suffering. You have to strike while the iron is hot, and we had gained a commitment from a lot of businesses," Mr. Hebron said. "Now our problem is that parents and friends of parents and businesses may not believe in the credence of our word anymore because of the delays."

But Mr. Hebron said he understood "that what happened could happen.

"Let's move forward from here," he said. "We have to take our frustration and turn it into something positive. It's just another obstacle to overcome. Hopefully it will strengthen us."

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