Stoneleigh parents weigh option of staying, or going, during addition project

In addition to the excitement of seeing the plans for the Stoneleigh Elementary School addition for the first time, parents attending a Tuesday, Oct. 4, briefing on the planned school project were charged with a decision that will affect their children for years to come:

Should they stay or should they go?

The school community is being presented with two options for the construction phase for the addition project — keep children at Stoneleigh for a 27-month construction project, or move the school's student population, staff and resources to the soon-to-be-vacant Carver Center for the Arts and Technology to allow the renovation and addition to be completed in 15 months.

Monday's meeting presented those plans, and gave parents until Oct. 12 to turn in a survey reflecting their choice.

"I think the meeting went well," said Juliet Fisher, a leader of the group, Stoneleigh United, after the meeting. "I think and hope that the voice of reason will come through, and all the parents who can vote, vote for Carver."

Before they discussed the options, John DiMenna, senior vice president of the design firm Rubeling & Associates, briefed the parents on the specifics of the addition and renovation project.

He said that in addition to a new entrance that will add security and be more welcoming to parents and students, the renovation will add a total of 14 classrooms — five kindergarten and nine additional rooms — to Stoneleigh.

The kindergarten classrooms will be on the first floor, with two fourth-grade rooms also tentatively placed in the addition on the first floor.

Another multi-purpose room will be on the first floor in the area that currently holds the library, which will be expanded and enhanced with a new media center.

On the second floor, seven additional classrooms will be created in the addition, and the floor will be centered around a locker area. A new set of bathrooms will also be installed on the second floor.

O the lower floor, a new arts room and a science lab will be installed alongside two performing arts classes and a new computer lab, putting all of the "specials" on the lower level.

All of the existing classrooms will also be renovated.

The plans made a positive impression on many of the parents.

While he was concerned about whether the addition would be big enough, Gordon Godat, who himself is an architect, said it was nice to have dedicated classrooms for the arts and science that aren't currently available.

Another parent, Eileen Ley, said a planned elevator was a "great thing," and that she hopes that the renovation will bring the school up to ADA standards.

Class in session, or on the road?

While the response was positive for the design, how the project will be completed will be up to the parents. School officials said the 27-month option to keep the school open would involve construction crews working around the students — and the school calendar.

During the first summer, projected as summer 2012, construction of the addition would begin, as well as some of the infrastructure improvements.

That phase is scheduled to take 12 months, with its completion coinciding with the second phase of the project: the renovation of the second floor.

Phase three would begin around Christmas break of the second year of the project, and would include the first floor portion. Phase four and the completion of the project would take place during the third summer of construction, when air conditioning would be installed and the balance of the project would be completed.

Principal Christine Warner said that on top of longer construction time and higher cost, keeping the school open would create logistical problems, including a lack of recess space, changes to arrival and dismissal time and environmental hazards that come with a full-scale construction project.

Several parents, including Keri Frisch, worried about the options' safety.

"I'm confident the county will take all of the necessary precautions (to keep the students safe)," Frisch said, "but once you start tearing up an 80-year-old school building, who knows what you're going to find."

"I don't feel they can adequately provide an answer because I don't think there is an answer," Frisch said.

Warner called the second option a "180-day field trip" to the Carver Center for the Arts and Technology, which she said would allow for the project to be completed in a 15-month window. Carver will be vacant because the new Carver Center, being built next door, will open next September.

If the principal had her choice, she said that it would be an easy one.

"If the decision were mine and mine alone, I like field trips," Warner said. "I would take our boys and girls on a remarkable field trip, and I'd do it well."

Several parents spoke in support of the option to move.

"I'm strongly in favor of the move to Carver for a year," said Frisch, who said Carver was the best option in terms of the students' safety and education.

Leigh Weihs, who attended the meeting with her husband, Tim, said that Carver was a "wonderful option" that the school is fortunate to have.

Many of the local legislators who have supported the addition from the start were in attendance at the meeting Tuesday, including state Sen. Jim Brochin, Del. Steve Lafferty, and County Councilman David Marks.

Last week legislators penned a letter to state education officials supporting $6.2 million for the Stoneleigh addition and renovation.

Marks said "nothing is more important in southeastern Towson than the addition at Stoneleigh Elementary School," and said he thinks the option of accelerating construction and moving is the better one.

Ultimately, though, the decision will be left at the feet of the parents. Warner will host Stoneleigh parents for a tour of Carver on Oct. 10, and surveys that indicate each family's preference due by Oct. 12.

te each family's preference due by Oct. 12.

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