Fourth 'R' is for rush to completion


There aren't many quiet hours at Emmorton and Church Creek elementary schools this summer as workers try to beat the clock and finish the buildings by late August.

Construction at both schools was slowed by winter's bad weather, but school officials are determined to have them ready before the opening of school Sept. 7.

School board members recently approved $465,000 to speed construction at Emmorton Elementary in Abingdon, which was finally made weather-tight June 24. The money will allow the contractor, H. A. Harris Co. Inc. of Baltimore, to have crews working longer days, six days a week.

"With the accelerated schedule, the building will be ready in entirety by Aug. 24," said Joseph P. Licata, supervisor of school construction, during a tour of the site last week. "Everything will be in place, although you may not see all the shrubs and grass."

Mr. Licata estimates that the 600-pupil school is 70 percent to 75 percent complete.

If all goes according to plan, students at Emmorton, off South Wheel and Tollgate roads, will arrive in September to find a state-of-the-art school, Mr. Licata said.

Even on a rainy, humid June day, Mr. Licata brings to life the 63,000-square-foot building, now a hard-hat construction area filled with workers and building materials. Disregarding puddles and paint, he points out the identical double entrances, both with bell towers.

One door is for bus traffic, the other for the general school population, he said. They are connected by a main street -- a long hallway from the front of the school to the back -- that eventually will be covered with marble-like terrazzo.

Even now, the area seems pastoral; mature trees buffer nearby homes and traffic.

"It's one of our prettiest sites," Mr. Licata said.

Classrooms are located on two floors of the split-level school. The upper level offers the best vantage point.

"It'll be like getting a room at the Hyatt," Mr. Licata said with a laugh, referring to teachers perhaps vying for the best view.

A two-story, rose-tinted glass wall in the media center will provide a grand look outside.

Students will have access to a 6,000-square-foot gymnasium, which is connected to the cafeteria by a common stage; a health suite; an art center; and a computer lab. Students will have access to computers without leaving their classrooms.

The children also will be surrounded by "soft versions of primary colors," Mr. Licata said. "Each grade will have its own color to make it easy for [students] to pick out and find."

Principal Margaret D. Goodson is keeping a close eye on the building. She stops there every Saturday to check on the work, Mr. Licata said.

"I live in the Country Walk community," Ms. Goodson said. "I'll be able to walk to work."

She said she has every confidence the school will open on time. "I'm not a construction expert, but it looks like they're doing everything possible."

During the tour, which included school board member George D. Lisby, Mr. Licata encouraged a photographer to take a picture of the rust-brick building with the silver metal roof, so there would be before and after photos. "We will be standing outside, shaking hands in August," Mr. Licata said.

In Belcamp, Church Creek Elementary is a noticeable landmark from Route 543 with its shiny teal metal roof. The salmon brick building is about 90 percent finished, Mr. Licata said.

After a long wait, the 60,000-square-foot building is scheduled to open Aug. 15. The school was delayed a year while school officials resolved concerns about a possible toxic waste dump and changed contractors because of poor performance.

Harris, the company that is building Emmorton Elementary, took over the Church Creek site in October. Last week, subcontractors of all trades were putting the finishing touches on the one-story school.

Principal Barbara J. Douglas is an enthusiastic cheerleader, as she stood in the doorway of the glazed pink gym recently.

"This is Cougar country," she greeted several visitors, referring to the school's mascot.

She and Assistant Principal Duane E. Wallace often visit to check on progress. "The school is just not a building, though. It's also about people," Ms. Douglas said. "We want to make sure it's beautiful inside [with people]."

Although students at the 600-pupil school will find many of the same amenities that are at Emmorton, the layout is different, and there is only one main entrance.

"We try to make each one unique and different," Mr. Licata said, referring to color schemes and other design features of the new schools.

One thing both new schools will have in common is a long-lasting terrazzo floors in the hallways. Some classrooms will be carpeted, but most will have bright tile floors.

"It's like a Rorschach test," Mr. Licata said of a large-square, pale-blue-and-white pattern in one area. "Don't you wish they had schools like this when we went to school?"

After viewing the two schools Wednesday, Mr. Lisby, of the school board, sighed with relief. "With what I've seen today, I think we'll make it" by the deadline, he said.

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