A STORY YESTERDAY REPORTING THE ESTIMATED $35.6 MILLION COST OF BUILDING A NEW WALT WHITMAN HIGH SCHOOL FAILED TO NOTE THAT THE ESTIMATE INCLUDED NOT ONLY THE CONSTRUCTION COST, BUT THE LONG-TERM EXPENSE OF DEBT SERVICE, MAINTENANCE AND ENERGY SAVINGS. ACTUAL CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW HIGH SCHOOL WOULD COST $21.6 MILLION. (Published 10/8/87)

With many questions unanswered, the Montgomery County school board sidestepped action yesterday on a recommendation to build a new Walt Whitman High School, rather than remodel the 25-year-old building in Bethesda.

The newly floated proposal to build instead of renovate is stirring some controversy among parents elsewhere in the county whose children attend a dozen aging schools also in need of repair. Parents at Sherwood High School in Olney, for instance, are awaiting the recommendation of a consulting architect about the feasibility of remodeling their main building, constructed in 1950.

"If they are going to tear down Whitman and start new, they have to judge Sherwood on the same grounds -- as a building" and not based on where its students live, Sherwood PTSA President Carol Besanson said.

County Council President Rose Crenca has indicated her concern about the precedent that might be set in approving a replacement for a school in need of repair. Both Superintendent Harry Pitt and school board President Marilyn Praisner said yesterday that school reconstruction projects would be considered case by case.

Pitt, who served as assistant principal at Whitman the year it opened, said he supports building a new school but said he shared the concern that a new facility for Whitman would set a precedent. In the past, he said, "we have replaced existing buildings . . . when it was more cost-effective" than remodeling. Whitman, he said, "is more the exception than the rule" because the other schools set for modernization don't need to be razed.

Pitt told the board yesterday that a new Whitman facility could be built at a cost of only $2 million more than the $33.6 million it would take to remodel the sprawling facility and temporarily move its students. The remodeling plan would incur substantial costs because 1,700 students would be moved to the empty Charles W. Woodward High School in Rockville, and 20 portable classrooms would have to be added there.

The existing school on Whittier Boulevard has 17 levels in half a dozen wings and uses energy inefficiently, is hard to negotiate for handicapped students and staff members, and is badly in need of repair, Pitt said.

Pitt advised the school board to defer action until various questions are answered, including why such a relatively new school would be in such need of repair.

Whitman, nationally recognized for its high academic achievement, serves a largely affluent area of Bethesda to the north and south of River Road, and has had additions built over the years. Pitt said the "inferior quality of its initial construction" and other problems "make the modernization of the school more costly than buildings of similar or older age."

Sherwood, which, like Whitman, occasionally floods during heavy storms, also houses classes for handicapped students, parent spokeswoman Besanson said, and has two staff members who use wheelchairs and have difficulty getting around the building. Both Whitman and Sherwood were built before federal regulations about construction of access for the handicapped in public buildings were instituted.

Staff writer Jo-Ann Armao contributed to this report.