Plans to convert the vacant Laurel Junior High School into an office building came closer to construction last week when the Laurel mayor and City Council annexed the school grounds to the city.

To complete the transaction, state officials are expected to transfer ownership of the property, along with that of the former Beltsville Elementary School, from the Prince George's County Board of Education to the county.

Dennis Berman, a Laurel developer whose partnership G.D.R. II Ltd. has launched into the business of converting schools to offices, predicted that renovation would be finished and the first rentals arranged by spring.

Berman has converted what was once Laurel Elementary School into Phair Office Park. He said he has rented 13 of 15 spaces there "in the face of a horrible market."

His latest deal with the county includes Laurel Junior High and Beltsville Elementary, for a total purchase price of $1.6 million. Berman said conversion work, including new heating, insulation, plumbing, wiring and a "super well-sealed outside skin," would cost three times the purchase price.

"Sometimes you say, 'There's no way you can look at an old school building and see that it will become a first-class office building,' " Berman said.

But the way he looks at it, old schools have their advantages. "It's all one story, it's very spread out and everybody has parking right in front of their door," he said.

Kay Sandul, Laurel city clerk, said: "We're just happy to see something being done with it. Nobody likes to see a large building sitting idle."

Steven J. Nardella, associate city planner, said he expects the state's Inter-Agency Committee and Board of Public Works to approve the land transfer in the next few weeks.

In other business, the council introduced an ordinance that would require property owners to pay 75 percent of the cost of fixing sidewalks in front of their land--three times what they would have paid under an ordinance that Mayor Robert DiPietro vetoed earlier this year.

Under the original ordinance, passed by the council, the city would have paid 75 percent and property owners 25 percent.

The council also annexed 19 acres along Sandy Spring Road, the future site of houses, Nardella said.