Friday, July 27, 2012

Running Brook Addition: We Can't Simply Slap It On

Like Longfellow, Running Brook is an odd School. The most strikingly odd part is that the front doors don't overlook the parking lot, a blank almost windowless side of the School does and one has to walk around it to get to the front doors. In addition to being my Elementary Alma Mater, Running Brook's enrollment has skyrocketed from 288 in 1994 to 435 in 2012 without a single square foot of added space. In the coming years enrollment will continue to rise as Downtown Columbia is developed all of which for now is located in the Running Brook District. With a current capacity of 405, an addition of some sort must be built within the next few years, but we can't just slap it on.
Running Brook opened in 1970 with the then stylish "open classroom" concept. Once the 1980s rolled around, that style has faded and in 1984 partitions were added that completely enclosed some classrooms and partially enclosed others. The open concept hadn't died completely with this limited renovation. Also in 1984, the multipurpose room was divided in three which made for the music room, G&T room, and O/T room. A new full sized Gym was added that year as was a two classroom addition that at the time housed the RECC and PREK. 1984 was the last and only time additions were made to Running Brook.
In 2006 Running Brook underwent a complete interior systemic renovation that included getting rid of any and all open classrooms once and for all. Although this renovation was long overdue and by enlcosing classrooms it did not include any additions to the building. nor did it add windows or a "reskinned exterior." What it did include was an expanded parking lot that stems from the fornt doors to the playground. Now the footprint of the building didn't grow during this renovation but the enclosing of the open classrooms did create a lerger building capacity. A total of seven additional classrooms of 22 seats was created bringing the capacity up from 261 before the renovations up to its current capacity of 405. A combination of growth and redistricting has made Running Brook outgrow its 405 capacity. In the coming years enrollment will continue to go up breaking 5, 6, or even 700 Students.
Seeing that the redevelopment of Downtown Columbia will have an effect on Running Brook where currently all of it goes, the County has elected to build a 100 seat addition to Running Brook. As the name of this post suggests, we can't just "slap on" this addition. Running Brook has some very small areas that would need to addressed that a mere classroom addition won't correct. First, the front entrance doors don't face the road, in newer Schools this is needed so that Administrative Staff can keep an eye on the goings on in the Parking Lot. Where the Art, Music, and O/T rooms currently are is the approximate location of where the entrance doors should be as well as the new Administration Suite should be. This will also require a new fine arts suite because the new front office will take up the current undersized space. This fine arts addition should contain 2 art rooms 2 music rooms and a band room which is what new larger Schools and an expanded Running Brook should contain. Also newer Schools contain a second Gym or "PE Activity Room" that when adding on to Running Brook must be considered. Also there's the obvious need to expand the Cafeteria, that was too small 20 some odd years when I attended this School and enrollment was much lower. An expanded Cafeteria is the only way all these additional Students can fit into the School. I've opened up a huge can of worms that Running Brook needs that doesn't even address the original intent; a 100 seat classroom addition. Like I said, we simply can't just slap on this addition.
My vision for a new Running Brook
 Now why just 100 seats? That's the size of the classroom addition that was proposed for Running Brook. Remember I said that enrollment may hit 700 and with a total capacity of 505 that addition is simply too small. Luckily there's time to discuss options for Running Brook as the addition has been deferred. I have a feeling that in addition to money being tight for construction that the County got wind of just how much more than a mere classroom addition of 100 seats is required to prep Running Brook for its unprecedented growth. Personally I think Running Brook has outgrown its building and it's time to rebuild it from the ground up. Elementary School #41 currently under construction in Elkridge is located on a 10 acre site as is Running Brook with a capacity of 600. This School may hold the key to what a new Running Brook should look like seeing as it has all the amenities of a new School while sitting on a small site like Running Brook. I think the County should wait a few years and put aside money to rebuild Running Brook.
There are options open that will hold the additional Students until a new Running Brook opens. First there's Longfellow, it will begin a massive modernization project in the coming years which will include an addition. Longfellow's enrollment is projected to remain the same in the foreseeable future so perhaps a larger Longfellow be of some assistance.

Second there's Bryant Woods, even with a new large Running Brook can't hold all of the new growth on its own so eventually redistricting into Bryant Woods would be inevitable. Bryant Woods is growing on its own already as homes that have long since held empty nesters are housing young Families once again. Bryant Woods is laid out very differently than Running Brook which makes it much easier to "slap on" an addition. Perhaps redistricting part of Downtown Bryant Woods and adding onto before rebuilding Running Brook is the way to go. At the same time, the Neighborhood of Faulkner Ridge can be redistricted to the newly modernized Longfellow that has capacity. Also Faulkner Ridge is within walking distance of Longfellow so transportation costs won't increase. Speaking of Faulkner Ridge, its closed Elementary School can act as a holding School during the rebuilding of Running Brook which it will do for Longfellow and probably Swansfield. 
My proposed redistricting for West Columbia
 Given all the work that needs to be done at Running Brook, it's good to know that there are neighboring Schools that can help until Running Brook is squared away, because we can't just slap on an addition

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Longfellow and Faulkner Ridge Modernizations

Well it appears that some of my not so popular School Modernization Methods have gotten into the heads of the School's planning department. The words "Holding School" at one point were that of a foreign language until recently and School Modernizations were phased with Students attending Schools during construction. Also more recent renovations have made drastic changes to the exteriors of the School Buildings such as Northfield, Thunder Hill, and Phelps Luck. Although the renovation of Stevens Forest wil add many more windows to the building the ugly masonry facade won't change which is a crying shame. 
Next on the renovation schedule is Longfellow. Built in 1970, renovated in 1986, and has received additions in 1994 and 2007. Longfellow was always a weird building. It was built on a site with hills that although the School is one level, there are a lot of steps throughout the building as a result of the hilly topography. It was first built with no Gym and the 1994 addition that gave one to the School was at the front of the building and is away from the Ball fields. Speaking of Ball fields the School doesn't have the traditional Baseball diamonds and back stops that an Elementary School is supposed to have. This anomaly can be traced back to the early 1970s when a neighbor of the School complained about noise from the Ball fields and Basketball Courts on the Blacktop. To appease this Neighbor, the School Board elected to get rid of the Baseball Diamonds and the Basketball citing that there are Basketball Courts at the Neighborhood Center next to the School. 
Current Floor Plan of Longfellow from HoCo Assesments
 In addition to the woes of Longfellow being so multi leveled and the expense to make all those steps and ramps ADA complient, Longfellow's floor plan leaves plenty to the imagination. The triangular stage in the Cafeteria is too small and in every renovation plan I've seen it calls for a demolition of this stage, the interior hallways dead end making for poor interior circulation, the number of Class Rooms or "Teaching Stations" has gone down as new programs were implemented such as G&T, Special Ed, RECC, PRE K, and a Computer Lab. This has been addressed partially through the 1994 and 2007 classroom additions as well as portable classrooms. The administration office doesn't have a clear view of the outside partially due to the Gym Addition blocking its view and the Health Suite needs to be brought up to COMAR regulation. These issues don't even begin to address the systemic renovations that are overdue.
One of the Options for Renovation from
 In order to bring Longfellow up to the standards of 2012, there will have to a lot of demolition and rebuilding involved. There is one plan that involves building a new Gym closer to the Ball fields and using the current Gym building as the administration suite. Of the options presented for renovating the existing building this is the one I prefer. There are also small classroom additions to get rid of the portable class rooms mainly for grades 3, 4, and 5. With the floor plan undergoing these additions how much room will there be for the Ballfields and Black Top?
Given the cost and the scope of the work needed at Longfellow it became more and more apparent that the Student Population shouldn't be attending School there during the course of the work. Faulkner Ridge Elementary closed in 1983 and was used as a staff development Center until it was emptied out in 2011. The option of using came up and I couldn't have been more thrilled. Why? I think if using a Holding School becomes an option it might make for larger renovations and modernizations and perhaps even a replacement School. As I was reading the Columbia Flier earlier this week, the option of completely tearing down Longfellow and starting anew was brought up. A brand new Longfellow will make better use of the small site the School is located on. A new School could then be two stories with the Gym located near the Ball fields, Administration Suite with an eye shot of the Parking Lot and everything will be ADA compliant. With the School being two stories instead of one, more acreage can be used for Ball fields and Parking Spaces.
If Longfellow were rebuilt I would like it to look like this
 With a newer larger Longfellow, its district can be made larger to relieve crowding in other West Columbia Schools. Swansfield is slated to grow as empty nesters give way to young Families. Also Running Brook will double in size due to the Downtown Columbia Development which as a result will have redistricting into Bryant Woods making it crowded as well. Longfellow can take the Faulkner Ridge Neighborhood from Bryant Woods and the Trails at Woodlot from Swansfield easily. 
Proposed Renovations to Faulkner Ridge for use as a Holding School
 Now we come to Faulkner Ridge, in the Longfellow Renovation Feasibility Study they also weigh options on how to make Faulkner Ridge a Holding School. Faulkner Ridge hadn't been renovated and its classrooms use the open concept which was a sign of the times when it was built in 1969. I saw blue prints for how it could be renovated and it shows that there could be three classrooms for each grade K-5, one room for Art and one for music, as well as a Media Center, Computer Lab, Special Ed, G&T, and Reading Resource. There is also a Multi Purpose Room that would make for a small Gym. There would have to be in the case of Longfellow's program 3 RECC, 1 PREK, and 1 music portable classrooms would have to be used. If Faulkner Ridge were to continue its use as a Holding School long term it would need an addition to house a RECC, PRE K, another Music Room, a full size Gym, as well as additional Student and Faculty Restrooms as well as large group instruction pods. 
With the Modernizations of Northfiled and Thunder Hill and now Phelps Luck and eventually Stevens Forest the art of modernizing Schools has reached new heights and now with Longfellow, and its holding School, older Columbia Schools might have their day in the sun yet again.