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Union Bridge group demands school repairs, despite state's veto


The state's decision to deny planning approval for renovations to Elmer A. Wolfe Elementary School has temporarily derailed the county's plans, but the Union Bridge community is prepared to fight to keep the expansion project on track.

A group of parents, educators and residents say they will not let the elementary school project fall into oblivion merely because Union Bridge is a small town.

"We're not going to sit back and be complacent. We feel like we haven't even been thought of long enough to be neglected," said Deborah Doxzon, whose daughter Emily is a fourth-grader at the school. "We're always being forgotten in Union Bridge. It's like an invisible triangle out here."

The Elmer Wolfe renovations were part of a plan to improve schools in northwest Carroll. Elmer Wolfe students were to move into the old New Windsor Middle School building while their elementary school received much-needed repairs.

Renovations to the elementary school were to begin by September 1995, when the new New Windsor Middle School is scheduled to open and the old middle school would be available.

However, the expected approval and funding are not available for the Elmer Wolfe renovations.

If use of the middle school building were interrupted because funds for Elmer Wolfe renovations were cut off, said Kathleen Sanner, an assistant in the county's school facilities office, the county would have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring the old building up to current occupancy code before the Elmer Wolfe children could move in.

"It looked beautiful on paper," said Ms. Sanner. "But if you don't get funding in the sequential order you need it, it all falls apart."

The state Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC) decided in December not to recommend to the Board of Public Works planning approval for the renovation and expansion of Elmer Wolfe, which is more than 50 years old. The planning approval would acknowledge the need for renovations, but provide no state money.

The IAC recommended that the county be granted less money than it requested to expand and renovate Taneytown Elementary, and recommended no state money for building Oklahoma Road Middle School.

The Elmer Wolfe renovation project was deferred in November by an IAC work group, with the agreement of the full committee. When Carroll officials appealed the decision Jan. 19 to the state Board of Public Works, the appeal did not include Elmer Wolfe renovations.

"The prospects of getting approval for Elmer Wolfe's renovations were so dim that we decided to just appeal Oklahoma Road and Taneytown," said Ms. Sanner.

Board of Public Works members have not made a decision on the appeal.

"I don't know why we were not included with the first two [schools in the appeal]. I don't know what need is in Taneytown that supersedes our own," Mrs. Doxzon said. "They say that we are not overcrowded and Taneytown is, but that's what Runnymede [Elementary] is supposed to take care of."

Oklahoma Road Middle School is being built to ease crowding at Sykesville Middle, which has 200 students more than it was built to serve. Ms. Sanner said Taneytown is 100 students over capacity.

"We have schools that are already overcrowded, and Elmer Wolfe is not one of them," Ms. Sanner said. "From my understanding, it is receiving lower priority than other areas because it doesn't have the population pressures and over-population facing other areas around the state."

Mrs. Doxzon and other Elmer Wolfe supporters said the county's decision to defer the project shows disrespect for Union Bridge.

A group of residents will meet at 7 tonight at the school to #F discuss strategy for addressing the Board of Education during a budget hearing Tuesday at Northwest Middle School.

"What the parents and supporters are trying to do is not kick anybody else out of getting their needs," said Mary Stong, Elmer Wolfe's principal. "But [they are trying] to help people understand that there are needs here that have to be addressed."

Ms. Sanner said another option for the renovation plans -- one not favored by the county -- is to do the work in phases and move the children to different parts of the building as expansion occurs.

"I won't have a child in this situation, but I think we need to think of the children in the future," said Catherine Caauwe, the school's Parent-Teacher Organization president. She said her son Ian will be gone by the time renovations begin.

"I certainly would not want my child in a school where renovation is going on around their ears," Mrs. Caauwe said.

The group has sent a petition to residents and has asked local government officials, civic groups and businesses to support their efforts to keep the Elmer Wolfe renovation plans on schedule.

The mayors and town councils of Union Bridge and New Windsor have agreed to send letters of support to the school board, Mrs. Doxzon said.

Lehigh Portland Cement Co. also has agreed to support the group's efforts, said Mrs. Doxzon.

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