Their day started on a chilly picket line, where every blast of a horn and wave of support from truck drivers and motorists speeding past elicited a roar of approval from the crowd.
Within three hours yesterday, however, the parents of northern Carroll County had something else to cheer. Two property owners, including the family that runs the golf course whose entrance was staked out in protest, agreed to allow sewer lines to be laid across their properties - clearing the last obstacles to an $18.2 million renovation of North Carroll Middle School that was supposed to have begun last fall.
Staff at the 47-year-old school just north of Hampstead were so excited by the sudden resolution to the land dispute that Principal Carl Snook drove to the corner where parents were picketing, invited them back to the school lobby and, over the school intercom, announced the news.
Teachers and students poured out of their classrooms for what could only be described as an impromptu pep rally.
"It was something like out of a movie," said Carmela Guthart, president of the school's Parent-Teacher Organization and leader of the charge for the modernization project. "It was so surreal. The kids were cheering and clapping. A lot of the staff was crying. I don't even know who I hugged first."
Teachers, parents and students from North Carroll fought for years to persuade state and county officials to schedule and fund renovation of the aged school. The roof leaks. Unreliable electrical systems sometimes force teachers to unplug classroom appliances to run computers without interruption. The septic system failed.
Activists thought they had overcome their last roadblock in May 2002, when the state Board of Public Works approved the renovation project, but preparations stalled when the county couldn't secure easements needed to connect the school to the public sewer system.
With the renovation at least a year behind schedule, the county filed condemnation lawsuits in July against three remaining holdout landowners.
One settled quickly, but the owners of Oakmont Green Golf Club and a red-brick ranch house held their ground while attorney Charles D. Hollman attempted to broker a deal that would benefit not only those two clients but also a nearby contractor who sought a public sewer connection.
"All indicators before 10 a.m. [yesterday] morning were that this was going to be an extremely drawn-out process," said Al Eilbacher, the school system's construction supervisor. "We had pretty much put this project on the shelf."
With the delivery of the signed easement deeds to the county attorney yesterday morning, Hollman's clients agreed to drop a request that owners of a 23-acre parcel across the street from the school be granted a sewer connection.
In return, Hollman said, Oakmont Green, homeowner Joyce V. Lowe and Charles J. Miller Inc., a 44-year-old Hampstead construction company, can connect to the sewer system at their own expense if they ever experience a certified septic failure.
In addition, during the busiest golfing season, the county agreed to complete its work at night on the 20-foot-wide strip of fairway on the third and fourth holes that will be disturbed while crews lay the sewer pipeline to the school.
Leland Snyder, co-owner and general manager of Oakmont Green, said that he signed the agreement late Thursday afternoon because he and the county resolved the final sticking points, not because of the phone calls, letters, boycott bumper stickers and threats of canceled golf tournaments.
"My attorney and their attorney have been talking the last couple days, and it was just a matter of working out a little language and those things attorneys do," Snyder said yesterday morning in his clubhouse office, just six-tenths of a mile from the throng of 30 to 50 parents with signs accusing him of holding the school's children hostage and encouraging a boycott of his public course.
"Sewage pipeline B4 golf tee time," proclaimed one sign with pink lettering. "Support our kids & education, not a hobby," read another. "Don't be mean Oakmont Green. Sign the right-of-way today," another urged.
"The whole thing was just blown out of proportion," Snyder said. "A couple vigilantes got a hold of it, and it developed into a mob mentality. People were not interested in the facts."
Among the facts brushed aside, he said, was that he declined the $18,700 the county offered him for the 1.4-acre easement.
"I wanted the [sewer] hook-up, and I wanted to protect my golf course," he said. "The money was never an issue. I never wanted to jeopardize the school. ... We try to be a good corporate citizen."
Tucked into an upscale housing development, Snyder's 18-hole public course attracts an uncommonly high number of tournaments. From the Maryland-Delaware chapter of the FBI National Academy to Boy Scout Troop 320 of Manchester, groups of all sizes and interests schedule annual fund-raising tournaments there.
Among the protesters were North Carroll Middle parents, as well as mothers and fathers of elementary-school pupils who know that unless the school is renovated soon, their children will endure the same cockroaches, unpredictable temperatures and hallway puddles of rain.
"We hope a little community pressure will make him more receptive to the easements." said Debbie Teeple, whose daughter just started sixth grade and who has twins in third grade.
Although Snyder insisted that the community did not affect his business or influence his decision, others pointed out that seemingly stalled negotiations accelerated as Boy Scout troops and recreational sports leagues announced intentions to cancel golf tournaments next spring and the school's PTO geared up for its protest.
For Guthart, the PTO president, yesterday's news topped what had previously been one of the happiest occasions of her life - the day state officials approved money for the project, clearing what Guthart and other parent activists thought would be the last obstacle to the renovation.
"Trust me," she said, still breathless yesterday evening, "Sept. 12 has beat that day."