THE REGION

Monument to Close Sunday Till Spring

If you want to ascend the Washington Monument, do it by Sunday evening or wait until spring.

The monument will close at 5 p.m. Sunday to permit the scheduled final phase of its restoration and will remain closed to the public until spring, according to a National Park Service spokesman.

Spokesman Earle Kittleman said that the exterior renovation is nearly finished and that contractors are ready to begin work on the observation deck at the top of the monument.

While the monument is closed, the nearby Discovery Communications-sponsored education center will remain open from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily.

Kittleman said completion of the entire restoration project is planned by mid-2000.

Sculpture Garden Ice Rink About to Open

Ice skaters awaiting the opening of the new rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden can get out their blades: Unless a warm front unexpectedly moves in, the rink will open at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

The rink surrounded by art was originally to open Nov. 15, but the unseasonably warm weather repeatedly delayed the opening. Icemakers need at least 48 hours of frigid temperatures to lay down a thick, sleek surface.

Rink hours will be 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays.

Admission prices range from $4.00 to $5.50; skate rental is an additional $2.50.

MARYLAND

Family Gives Land to Planning Board

A Washington developer and his family have donated 382 acres of rolling farmland to the Montgomery County Planning Board, the largest real estate gift the agency has ever received.

The property near Beallsville was given by Hermen Greenberg, a District resident and developer; his wife, Monica Lind Greenberg; and her son, Aleco Bravo. It will be used as an equestrian center named for Greenberg's father, Moritz Greenberg, who died more than 10 years ago.

The value of the land--which fronts Route 28, West Hunter Road and Wasche Road--is estimated at $2.5 million.

Greenberg, who builds residential and commercial projects in the District and its suburbs, also owns a thoroughbred horse farm in Middleburg, and his wife used to ride horses competitively.

Planning Board Chairman William H. Hussmann called the gift "a jewel in the crown of the county's nationally renowned park system."

Heater Blamed in Fatal House Fire

An improperly placed portable heater is to blame for an accidental house fire in Pocomoke City, Md., that killed four people, including two children, the Worcester County fire marshal's office said.

The investigation also found no operational smoke detectors in the home.

Victoria Ann Fitch, 39; her 3-year-old grandson, Leont'a Tre Coulbourne; Clifton Columbus Hall Jr., 29; and his 6-year-old daughter, Sha'Kera Renae Hall, died in the fire early Sunday.

The cause of death was smoke inhalation, according to the medical examiner's office. The four were found in a bedroom in the front of the house.

VIRGINIA

Oranges for Metro Segment's Anniversary

Metro officials and Arlington County workers gave out 10,000 oranges yesterday to morning rush-hour commuters using the Orange Line between Rosslyn and Ballston as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of that stretch of subway.

County officials also inaugurated an exhibit at the Ballston Common mall designed to illustrate economic development that has sprouted up around the five Metro stations since they opened in 1979.

In the two decades since Metro began running in Arlington, commercial and office space in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor has more than tripled, and population has surged from 19,889 to 38,211, said Paul F. Ferguson (D), chairman of the County Board.

"Arlington officials used Metro as a way to encourage growth and to revitalize the county's commercial core," he said.

Suit Dismissed in Switch of Baby Remains

In a case with similarities to the ongoing dispute over two girls switched at birth at the University of Virginia Medical Center, a Charlottesville judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the same hospital by a woman who was given a casket with the wrong remains after a miscarriage in March 1998.

Mistie Fritz, a Roanoke area woman, had requested that she be allowed to take home the remains of her miscarried baby. But when she checked the casket in the hospital parking lot, she discovered the dead body of someone else's baby. She sued the hospital for $500,000.

Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Paul Peatross agreed with attorneys for the hospital that Virginia law does not allow courts to award money in such cases without evidence that the incident caused the plaintiffs actual physical injury.

Alexandria Students Raise Test Scores

Alexandria public school students raised their scores this year on the state-required Stanford 9 achievement tests, Superintendent Herbert M. Berg said yesterday.

The fourth-, sixth- and ninth-graders taking the tests of English, mathematics, science and social science equaled or exceeded the average scores from the preceding year in 26 of a total of 27 categories.

Fourth- and ninth-graders reached the 54th percentile and sixth-graders the 51st percentile, meaning all were above the 50th percentile, which is the national average.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"The use of significant [Department of Justice] resources to investigate rumor or innuendo regarding Mr. Barry has certainly proven to be fruitless, and would seem to be driven by something other than rational thought."

-- Frederick D. Cooke Jr., former mayor Marion Barry's attorney, in asking the Justice Department to investigate a planned FBI sting operation that was never carried out.