Md. Plantation to Undergo Restoration

Experts from architects and historians to structural engineers and paint analysts are converging on Sotterley Plantation in St. Mary's County this summer for a study that will decide how to restore the almost 300-year-old Tidewater plantation.

Sotterley will undergo a $2.2 million restoration after the various experts come up with a master plan, said Pamela Hawkes, a Boston architect whose firm is heading the project.

The 90-acre plantation has a manor house built in 1710, slave quarters and gardens that overlook the Patuxent River. It once contained one of the largest communities of slaves in Southern Maryland, and it is home to a rare "earth-fast" building, a pre-Colonial America wood structure built without a stone or concrete foundation.

Three years ago, the plantation was closed to the public because of a lack of funds and declining attendance. Now, with federal, state and private grants, the foundation that owns the plantation can begin much-needed restoration work, said Carolyn Laray, executive director of the Sotterley Foundation.

"We went from endangered to an American treasure," Laray said, referring to the plantation's past listing as one of the nation's most endangered historic sites and its recent inclusion in the White House Millennium Council's America's Treasure Project, a nationwide restoration and preservation effort.

Kirk Ranzetta, a St. Mary's architectural historian, is also preparing to nominate Sotterley Plantation as a National Historic Landmark. If the designation is approved by the National Park Service, there could be more grants for educational programs.

"It's a significant site," Ranzetta said.

In September, singer Judy Collins will give a benefit concert at Sotterley, yet another sign that things are looking up, Laray said.

"It's really going to be a celebration of how far we've been able to come," she said.

-- Jessie Mangaliman

Graduate Relates Benefits of Big School

Four years ago, Jonathan Williamson was a stranger in a strange land--new to Prince William County and new to Woodbridge High School and its sea of 3,000 students, most of them older than his 14 years.

"It's overwhelming just trying to have a normal school day when you don't know where everything is," said Williamson, who was assigned his student number (3194) that September day. He was speaking to a reporter chronicling the first day of his freshman year at the biggest high school in Virginia.

Looking back at his high school experience last week, the newly minted Woodbridge High graduate wasted few words: "The main thing is, I had a blast. . . . It was a great time."

Williamson found a group of friends by participating in varsity golf and soccer.

"Athletics was kind of a springboard," he said.

He eventually would become captain of both teams while maintaining a grade point average high enough for him to graduate with honors. He is headed for Virginia Tech to study communications in the fall.

He now speaks proudly of his high school and its size. A large student population means there's no one "popular crowd," he said. "It's great, because you never run out of people to meet."

-- Christina A. Samuels

FDA Consolidation Funding Passes Senate

A plan to begin consolidating up to 1,600 Food and Drug Administration workers at the former White Oak Naval Surface Warfare Center in Montgomery County has cleared an early hurdle on Capitol Hill.

Before leaving town for its Independence Day recess, the Senate approved $35 million for the consolidation in an appropriations measure financing the Treasury Department and other government agencies.

While the total is less than the $55 million proposed by the Clinton administration, funding for the project has been dropped from an appropriations bill that the Senate committee's House counterpart will take up later this month, congressional aides said.

The Senate action will keep the measure alive until House-Senate budget talks later this year.

"This funding will allow the agency not only to consolidate, but to modernize," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who fought for the $27.7 billion treasury, postal and general government appropriations measure, which passed on a voice vote.

The FDA consolidation ultimately would cost an estimated $450 million. The first installment would build a new Center for Drug Evaluation and Research for 100 workers now spread among five sites. It would start planning for a 2.1 million-square-foot FDA campus on 130 acres to house employees now in 40 buildings at 21 locations.

Supporters say that the agency spends $32.2 million per year for commercial leases and that consolidation could save $200 million in 10 years.

-- Spencer S. Hsu