Faced with dwindling enrollments, schools are closing in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. What happens to the buildings once the students have moved out? The following stories examine the uses of surplus schools in each of the counties.
The basketball court is now a parking lot - with a late-model Chevy occupying the blacktop's key shooting position under a basketless, rustling orange hoop.
Although the nearby bike racks, jungle gyms and swingsets are all kidless, the building still looks like an elementary school.
But a new, glossy street sign lets passers-by know that the building - which still says "Foxhill" in large black letters - is now the Bowie City Hall.
Foxhill Elementary is one of 10 schools the Prince George's County Board of Education closed last fall in an effort to deal with declining enrolments. From a peak of 162,000 in 1972-1973, enrolment dropped to 139,302 during the 1977-1978 academic year.
In a game of "musical schools" the Board of Education retained some surplus facilities to house students from other schools that were undergoing renovation. Some surplus buildings were used to consolidate other school properties, enabling the board to vacate those facilities.
"For example, Palmer Park Elementary School was closed and now houses that Palmer Park Service Center," explained John R. Aubuchon, supervisor of information services for the school system. The Palmer Park Service Center incorporates equipment previously housed in the school system's Audio Visual Center, both located in buildings in Bladensburg, which were declared surplus and transferred to the county.
When the renovation and consolidations were completed, the school system was left with nine surplus facilities. The board transferred ownership of the nine buildings to the county last December, which it was required to do by state law. The board recently announced plans to hand over four more school buildings to the county.
What happens to these former schools has, in some cases, been a topic of controversy.
A surplus school utilization committee, organised by County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr. and staffed by five county government employes, administered the diposition of the schools.
The committee solicited proposals from prospective users last summer by distributing detailed information packets to about 50 municipalities and nonprofit organizations.
In choosing among applicants, the committee weighed the community impact of the proposed usage, according to Craig Gerhart, a staff member for Kelly. "We considered many criteria - what it would do to the traffic pattern; if the playground would still be available; if it would disrupt the community," Gerhart said. "Since we also demanded that, in return for use, the user be responsible for necessary renovations and maintenance, a number of interested groups that couldn't afford this dropped out."
The greatest demand was for two of the most modern facilities, Foxhill and Whitehall elementary schools, Gerhart said. Both the Bowie City Hall and United Cerebral Palsy of Prince George's County vied for Whitehall, with UCP receving Whitehall and Bowie taking over Foxhill.
For Bowie city employes, gaining the Foxhill facility was "like dying and going to heaven," said city manager Charles Moore.
"Last September we were in a 220-year-old mansion which we had outgrown," Moore recalled. "Everything was terribly fragmented. The Youth Services Bureau was in one building and the finance department was in another, so if you needed a check it took three days, and if you wanted to see someone you had to jump in the car."
Moore's goal is to turn Foxhill into a "one-stop, multiservice center" housing all city services - from the mayor's office to the dog licensing bureau.
Currently, in addition to the city offices, the school houses the Youth Services Bureau, the Bowie hotline, senior center, senior nutrition program and Jaycees' offices.
Transforming an elementary school into a modern office building involved some challenging renovation.
"We're one of the few city halls with such huge hallways and with such low sinks," grinned Moore, who said individual offices were allowed to decide whether to keep the blackboards and sinks that were in some rooms. "When construction began we found some strange things - like beer cans, schoolbooks and clothes - tucked in a recessed area of the ceiling."
The teacher's lounge is now a data processing center, and "Operation Identification," a burglary prevention program, is in what used to be the principal's office.
While the tiny, pre-school size chairs, public address system and many of the blackboards were taken by the school board, most offices have that luxury necessary to grade school children - a private bathroom.
Some renovation was necessary to satisfy the building code, including modification of doors, curbs and bathrooms to make the building accesible to handicapped persons.
Other renovation was geared to the business nature of the facility.
"The only telephone had been in the principal's office, so there was a lot of rewiring to be done," Moore noted. Some plumbing fixtures also had to be changed to accomodate adult-sized bodies. The renovation cost Bowie $160,000. Bowie, which is Maryland's third largest city, has a population of 42,000.
Plans for the other seven schools buildings transfered to the county last December:
The educational media center in Blandensburg will be the new home of the Blandensburg Branch of the Prince George's County Library.
The Seabrook Office Center will be used by the Maryland-National Park and Planning Commission as an activity center.
The Blandensburg Audio Visual Center is under consideration by the department of corrections as a weekend detention facility.
College Park Elementary School is in the process of being transfered to the city of College Park.
The Capitol Heights Special Education Resource Center is to be demolished and the site turned over to the town of Capitol Heights.
The Cottage City Center Special Education Facility will be demolished and the site made available to the town of Cottage City.
Disposition of the Bowie Special Center is still undecided.
Most communities seem to be pleased with the school building's new tenants, Gerhart said.
"We've had good news from Seabrook residents who appreciate how everything turned out, and the Bowie community has expressed support of the United Cerebral Palsy facility," he noted. "The only thing close to negative comment was a signigicant amount of citizen protest against the demolition of the Bowie Special Center. In response, demolition has been postponed and we're still holding on that."
The county's surplus school utilization committee is currently being reactivated in preparation to administer the disposition of the four school buildings being handed over to the county, Gerhart said.
The Lakeland Special Education Center in College Park and the Somerset Elementary School in Bowie should be vacated this summer, according to school system officials. Temple Hills Elementary is expected to be ready for transfer to the county this fall and Brentwood Elementary should be ready for transfer in December.