A fresh start, a new space

The Baltimore Sun

Sandy Thrasher, a first-grade teacher at Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood since 1981, was getting her classroom ready for a new crop of students last week, just as she does every August before the start of the school year.

But this year, setting up her classroom was more of a chore and also more of a pleasure.

Like the rest of the Bushy Park community - teachers, students and staff members - Thrasher had moved to a new, much larger school just a parking lot away from the old Bushy Park Elementary School.

"It's so nice and bright in here," she said, as she puttered around her new classroom.

Not only is her new classroom larger, she said, it has its own bathroom, as do all the classrooms for students through second grade.

Like Dayton Oaks Elementary School, which opened a year ago, and Veterans Elementary School, which is also opening this year, it has two floors, with children in grades three through five on the second floor. It also has four "learning centers," carpeted open spaces between classrooms that are good for group activities.

Constructing a new school to replace an existing one is unusual in the county, which often renovates and adds to its older buildings.

Bruce Gist, the county's director of school construction, said the decision was made after studies found that upgrading and expanding the school would be more expensive than building a new one. The old building will be used by the school system, he said, though a specific use has not been determined.

The old school, built in 1976, was designed to hold 395 students, said Rebecca Straw, principal since 2002. By the end of the 2006-2007 school year, about 700 children were crammed in, she said.

The school cafeteria was so small that students were jammed up against the walls, and a severe bathroom shortage meant that lines were the norm. "It just wasn't designed for that kind of growth," she said.

Construction began on the 116,800-square-foot replacement school in June 2006, she said. Last week, the building, which has four stairwells and two elevators, was ready for the final touches. Teachers were in nearly every classroom, putting posters on walls, adding books to shelves and unpacking boxes.

As with the rest of the county, the staff officially returns Aug. 21, and school starts Aug. 27.

Straw said one of the nice things about moving to a new building is that the school community is remaining intact. "We still have the same staff, the same facilities and the same reputation," she said. The school colors, blue and white, and the logo, a bear's paw print, can be found throughout the building.

"We brought our school colors and our mascot with us," Straw said.

But the new school is much nicer, she said. The changes begin with the office, Straw said. In the old school, visitors had to walk down a hall to reach it. In the new school, it is right at the entrance, which is both more welcoming and more practical, she said.

The office and classrooms are flooded with natural light from large windows. Some rooms, such as second-grade teacher Linda Powell's, overlook a field and farm, complete with herds of cows.

Powell, who has been at Bushy Park since 1993, described her new digs as "bright and shiny," noting that her old classroom did not have a window.

The new school also has four music rooms, a large gymnasium, a cafetorium with two lunch lines and a hand-washing station, and two labs equipped with new Macintosh computers. The spacious art room is on the second floor, with windows looking into the media center below.

Second-floor classrooms do not have bathrooms, but there is something new: hand-washing stations that are in the hall. Students are more likely to wash their hands if they are in view of teachers and other students, Straw said.

Irene Brown, a teacher of gifted-and-talented pupils, said her old classroom had no storage, but now she has plenty. "It's just great," she said, as she got her room in shape. "It's very exciting."

A ribbon-cutting and an open house will be held from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 26 at the new Bushy Park Elementary School, 14601 Carrs Mill Road, Glenwood.

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