Vandalism unlikely to delay school opening, officials say


Ann Blonkowski, principal of Parr's Ridge Elementary in Mount Airy, uses one word to describe her initial reaction when she saw what vandals armed with spray paint had done to her school.

"Shocking," she said.

"It seemed like almost every area I toured had [spray paint]," she said in an interview this week. "The gym, the classrooms, the hallways."

State police estimated that vandals caused more than $60,000 worth of damage to the school on Watersville Road. The school, which is under construction, is scheduled to open next fall with about 440 pupils in kindergarten through second grade.

Spray-painted nicknames and a distinctive drawing of the cartoon character Scooby-Doo scrawled across classroom walls, hallways and other surfaces led police to five Mount Airy residents who are suspected in connection with the Thanksgiving weekend burglary and vandalism at the school, police said.

Misdemeanor charges are pending against the five people - a 20-year-old man and two boys and two girls ranging in age from 15 to 17, police said.

School officials would not say whether or what kind of disciplinary action might be taken against the four students involved.

"The school is handling this according to our policy on dealing with students involved with destruction of school property," said Stephen Guthrie, Carroll County's assistant superintendent of administration.

Students who violate the school system's policy can face disciplinary action ranging from suspension to expulsion, he said.

Factors considered when determining whether to discipline a student accused of damaging school property include the extent of the damage, the content of the vandalism and prior offenses, Guthrie said.

Because the damage is expected to exceed the school system's $10,000 deductible on its building liability insurance, Guthrie said, the district will file a claim with its insurance carrier. The carrier would have to decide whether to seek restitution from the vandals, he said.

As a painting crew continued to prime and repaint walls, school officials this week remained confident that plans to open the school next fall would be unaffected by this setback.

"It's certainly a problem," said Ray Prokop, facilities director for the school system. "But this is not something we can't handle."

School officials are assessing the damage in an effort to determine what can be salvaged and what must be replaced, Prokop said.

"The [spray paint] was on many different surfaces, and that's what we're struggling with now," he said.

Rick Buchanan, project manager for the school system, estimated that 80 percent of the school - including classrooms and corridors - had been affected to some degree. From the main corridor, one can see damage along the entire length of the hallway that leads to the classrooms, he said.

Erasing the damage isn't necessarily as simple as repainting all the surfaces, Prokop said.

For instance, he is awaiting word from the manufacturer of the door frames that were damaged because those frames were produced with a protective powder coating to make them maintenance-free. Repainting the frames might render that coating useless and mean that the school system would have to reorder the frames, he said.

Prokop is also waiting to hear from the manufacturer of cabinets that were damaged to ensure that the paint is properly removed without harming the finish.

Buchanan said most of the damage was to the walls, which will require extensive repainting. He said crews have had trouble removing paint from some of the floor tiles, which will have to be replaced.

Because some items will probably have to be replaced - and orders can sometimes take eight to 12 weeks for delivery - it is possible that the construction crew will have to be in parts of the building past the late-April date by which it had hoped to have everything finished, Buchanan said.

But, he added, the overall construction schedule should be unchanged. He also said the school's administrative staff will be able to start working in late spring as planned, in part because the administrative suite was not damaged.

Blonkowski said she has been encouraged by the construction crew's positive attitude despite the extra work the vandals created for them.

"It was disappointing" when she saw the damage, she said. "But they all pulled together and said, 'What do we need to do to get it back together?' ... Wherever there was a way to fix it, they were going to do it."

She hopes the building will be free of the damage by late next month, when she plans to take a group of first- and second-grade teachers on a tour.

"Already the halls are cleaned up, and [painters] are working in the classrooms now," she said. "They're just not letting [the vandalism] slow them down."

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