Church Creek parents are losing their patience They seek answers to building delay


Riverside-area parents are frustrated because they say the school system is stonewalling them by refusing to say when construction on Church Creek Elementary School will resume.

The school was to have been completed Aug. 15 but education officials announced in April that the building, at Riverside Parkway and Church Creek Road, would not open until the start of school next year. Officials cited earlier construction problems with the compactibility of soil beneath the building.

"I'm real tired of being patient and understanding," said Pat Benedict, who lives in Riverside and has two children who would attend Church Creek. "I want to know when construction on the school is going to start, and I want to see a construction schedule."

Mrs. Benedict, who has served as an unofficial liaison between Riverside parents and the school system, said school officials tell her "not to worry, that everything is fine."

"If everything was fine the school would have opened this year. That response is not good enough anymore," she said.

A community association meeting is scheduled in Riverside tomorrow night, and Mrs. Benedict is to brief the Belcamp neighborhood on the status of Church Creek Elementary.

"What am I going to tell the community? Rumors abound that the school won't open even next year," Mrs. Benedict said.

She said the school system promised the community that construction would resume by Sept. 24 but that the gates are still locked.

Beth Oleszczuk, another Riverside parent, shares Mrs. Benedict's frustration. "Every time I ask the school system officials or school board members when construction will begin they say they can't talk about Church Creek because of 'potential litigation,' " she said.

Mrs. Oleszczuk said she's particularly worried that neither the roof nor walls at the school have been put in place yet. Her concern is that resumption of construction could be delayed until spring, after the inclement winter weather.

The steel skeleton of the building is in place and some exterior brickwork has been completed.

H. A. Harris Co., which built Ring Factory Elementary in Bel Air and is building Country Walk Elementary in Bel Air, is expected to take over construction of Church Creek, said Donald R. Morrison, a spokesman for the school system. He said he did not know when that would happen.

Work at the Belcamp school stopped Sept. 10 when the contractor, Peter J. Scarpulla Contractors Inc., turned over the site to its bonding company, the St. Paul Seaboard Co. of New Jersey.

The Baltimore-based construction firm says it is experiencing "financial difficulties," not the least of which is a $1,500-a-day penalty that could be levied for the delay, said Gerard M. Amedoro, Scarpulla's corporate secretary.

How much of a fine is imposed will probably be decided in court, according to the school system.

St. Paul Seaboard, which did not return phone calls last week, closed the site to take inventory of supplies and building materials and to determine how much work has been done, Mr. Morrison said.

Mr. Amedoro earlier said Scarpulla and the school system "had a difference of opinion" over who was responsible for bringing in dirt needed to compact the site before a foundation could be poured.

"They don't read the words in the contract the same as we do." he said. "It was not our responsibility to bring in the dirt needed for the compactibility at the site. We have not been thrilled working with the Harford County school system. We don't know what their problem is," he said.

Mr. Morrison would not comment on the school because of potential litigation against Scarpulla. "It is our position that the school will open on time next year," he said.

Mr. Morrison said a school official will attend the Riverside meeting to answer questions about the school.

He added that about 35 percent of Church Creek Elementary has been completed since Scarpulla broke ground last October until the company stopped construction last month.

The bid was awarded to Scarpulla on Aug. 31, 1992.

Some parents in Riverside, including Mrs. Benedict, have begun -- only half-jokingly -- calling Church Creek Elementary "jinxed."

"It seems that everything that can go wrong has gone wrong," Mrs. Benedict said.

Riverside residents thought the major problems were behind them in August of last year when the county gave the school site a clean bill of health. The county ordered three separate tests for toluene, an industrial solvent.

Portions of the site were used by the nearby Bata Shoe Co. from 1972 to 1978 to dispose of water used in cleaning manufacturing equipment used in making innersoles at the shoe factory. The tests proved that the site had been cleaned up under state and federal standards.

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