Schools using every nook and cranny; In elementaries, teachers strive to accommodate growth


At Deep Run Elementary School, the room where pupils eat their lunches and fidget through assemblies is affectionately called the "cafetorium," a term that accurately describes the dual use of space common in many primary school buildings.

But as the Elkridge school's population has grown over the years, Deep Run staff members have had to become even more creative with the building's space, putting virtually every nook and cranny to good use.

An 11-by-12-foot conference room has become a classroom for children who are learning to speak English and for others who need help with reading.

A corridor of offices once dedicated to teacher planning now houses a reading specialist and a guidance counselor.

A storage closet has been transformed into a tiny exercise room for special education pupils who need occupational therapy.

And that's just inside the building. Three portable classrooms dot the back lawn, and additions are present on two sides of the school.

"There's no empty space here. Every space is used for something," said Deep Run Principal Fran Donaldson. "It's really a test of your creativity to see where you can put people."

Twenty-two of Howard County's 37 elementary schools are considered over capacity, according to district records. With 790 pupils -- 123 over capacity -- Deep Run is the second most crowded. Only Pointer's Run in Clarksville has a larger population -- more than 800 pupils.

And the district's enrollment figures for the coming years don't offer much relief. If projections pan out, Deep Run will have to find space for 158 more children next year; Pointer's Run, 163.

District leaders at one time were discussing "redistricting," a redrawing of district boundary lines, to send pupils from cramped, newer schools to older buildings that tend to have many empty seats.

But if the school board approves a proposed capital budget, the redistricting plan will be postponed for several years, in favor of cutting class sizes. If that happens, many of the most crowded schools will need to find more space -- space that doesn't exist.

Temporary measures

To ease the crowding, district administrators have proposed adding a fourth portable classroom to Deep Run's grounds, and building an addition to Pointer's Run.

That might help spread out pupils among the classrooms, said Deep Run Assistant Principal Steve Meconi, but it doesn't do much for other common areas of schools, such as cafeterias, gymnasiums, resource rooms for art and music classes, and hallways.

"One problem is [the children] going from one place to another," said Sue Nickles, a second-grade teacher at Deep Run. "Sometimes, there's time lost."

Especially, she said, when pupils have to come from portables or classrooms on the other side of the building.

The school reduces space-related conflicts by drilling into children the idea that respect for all personal space and property is paramount.

The problem is, space is scarce.

"We're squished when we're at our desks sometimes and people lean over," said second-grader Sydney Johnson.

Meconi reflects on the community's bulging seams and the new families moving in, and shakes his head.

"We've added two new whole wings really, and we're still not catching up."

'Inner and outer loop'

At times, pupils at Pointer's Run have to have "art on a cart," said Principal Karen Ganjon: The art teacher personally delivers paints, paste and paper to their classrooms because she has no room to call her own.

"So far, we've been able to share the space well," Ganjon said. "We have to have traffic control patterns in the hallways, and we jokingly call them the inner and outer loop. It works, but you have to think about those things when you've got 300 kids moving at the same time."

Rockburn Elementary School's soundproof band room sometimes is used as a "pull-out" room for special education students, and it also functions as a testing room for the school's psychologist. A seminar room doubles as a space for a part-time art teacher and a gifted-talented classroom.

At Ilchester Elementary School in Ellicott City, the principal and assistant principal gave up their offices for classroom space and share a small conference room.

If approved, the capital budget has money allocated for a new elementary school in the northeast, which would help ease the crowding at Ilchester and other northeast-area schools.

But not much.

Even if a school opens as proposed in 2003, each of the six elementary schools in the northeast will be at least 95 seats short. Rockburn somehow will have to create more than 300 extra seats.

Teachers and principals, however, are adamant that no matter how many children they must cram into a building, they will make do, creatively and with a smile.

"We keep the quality of the instruction foremost," Ganjon said. "But the delivery of that instruction may have to change."

And kids, ever resilient, tend to adopt a "more the merrier" attitude when asked to consider the prospect of a crowded school.

"Especially on the first day of school," said second-grader Tyana Dingle. "Because we get to meet a whole lot more friends."

Staff writer Erika D. Peterman contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 10/03/99

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