School overhaul on hold

Parents will have to wait -- no one knows yet how long -- for long-hoped-for improvements to Severna Park Middle School.

After nearly five hours of discussion, debate and public comment Wednesday, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education failed to agree on a course of action to either improve or replace the 39-year-old school.


The board considered three options -- moderate renovations, more-extensive renovations and complete replacement of the school. The board voted down the latter two options and did not vote on the moderate renovations.

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell had recommended moderate renovations, called a revitalization, which would cost about $46 million for construction.


But the nearly 20 Severna Park parents and community members who attended the meeting, wearing yellow armbands, urged the board to vote for the more expensive "modernization" plan, which would cost $56 million for construction. Among those who addressed the board was County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, who attended the school and left there in 1980. The school looks the same now as it did then, she told the board.

Vitale called the superintendent's recommendation a "$46 million Band-Aid."

"That option is, in my opinion, not an option," she said.

Under both plans, the school would be expanded, and mechanical, plumbing and electrical systems would be replaced. But the option favored by some parents would increase classroom space by about 4,000 square feet and total area by 7,000 square feet.

Maxwell said he weighed the higher cost and additional construction time against the merits of more space.

"I just don't think $10 million and nine months is worth it," he said after the meeting.

Replacing the school would cost $58 million, and board member Enrique Melendez said he was surprised that none of the parents at the meeting asked the board to consider that option.

"Why is no one asking for a new school?" he said.


Maxwell told the board that when he met with the committee that studied the various options, he was told by parents and community members that they were not in favor of a new school.

"I was told that the community did not want a new building," he said.

Board members voted on that option, but it failed.

Though the Severna Park contingent did not ask the board for a new school, they cheered when the option was being considered. Some said later that they did not know that a new school had ever been an option. The school's principal, Sharon Morrell, said the committee did not recommend a new school because members were concerned that a new school would be too close to Jumper's Hole Road traffic.

Maxwell urged the board, in vain, to act. He and board Vice President Eugene Peterson had expressed concern that if the board did not act this week, it would reduce the school system's chances of receiving state funding for the project next fiscal year.

Vitale assured the board that she thought the County Council's past support for improving the middle school would continue.


"If you build it, we'll make sure it gets funded," she said. "I've never seen a school started to be built not get finished."

Throughout the daylong meeting -- board members didn't take a lunch break -- board member Victor Bernson repeatedly tried to persuade the others to table discussion of the issue, so that more community input could be sought. But each time his motion was rejected. He was visibly upset when, more than four hours later, the board had not made a decision.

"I'm extremely disappointed," he said after the meeting. "It's not over yet."

He added that he hoped the issue would be brought back before the board and that, in the meantime, the board members use the opportunity to hear from the community.