Busy summer for local school improvement projects

Editor’s note: This is Part III of a three-part series on improvements taking place in Dorchester County’s public schools.
By Dave Ryan
Dorchester Banner
CAMBRIDGE – Something young children need: New playground equipment for recess.
Something citizens need: No added expense.
Done and done.
Sandy Hill Elementary School’s outdoor playgrounds, with age-appropriate equipment and structures, has gotten heavy use – ok, it’s taken a beating from hundreds of excited kids – for quite a few years. The time had long since come that it needed to be replaced, but money was a factor.
“For the last few years, Sandy Hill parents have been raising money to fund this work, but it was finally able to be included with other external improvements this summer, thanks to generous support from Ironman Maryland,” a prepared statement from Dorchester County Public Schools said.
“Bottom line: new curbing, new sidewalks with ADA ramps, a new entryway, a repaved parking lot, and new playgrounds – over $400,000 worth of improvements – at no cost to Dorchester County taxpayers,” the statement said. “Thanks to all who made this possible, especially our friends at Ironman Maryland.”
Included in the deal with Ironman, in which volunteer hours at the triathlons were used for a local match for a grant, were also the refurbished pressbox, the new softball field, gym floor and parking lot work at C-SD.
“All this stuff is usually at local cost,” Mr. Hauge said. With the county being one of the poorest in the state, local resources are limited.
“The overall strategy is to limit exposure” of local taxpayers to more expenses. “We can be good stewards,” Mr. Hauge said.
Choptank Elementary
“Major site concrete work was completed at Choptank Elementary School,” a memo from the Facilities Department said. “This work was comprised of replacing the main entrance sidewalks that had deteriorated over time. This work was completed over the summer break and was locally funded.”
Some of the work done at Choptank Elementary School over the summer is on a more modest scale than other projects in the county, but important nevertheless, especially since it involves feeding children. The school’s cold storage has been expanded, now reaching outside the original structure, which means the school can better serve the needs of students who don’t always get enough food at home.
This need is all the more pronounced during the summer months, because some children get little to eat when school is not in session. Summer food programs operate out of Choptank and Mace’s Lane Middle School.
Mr. Slacum took charge of this job, seeing that a doorway was cut in an outer wall, and a foundation poured. Webster Refrigeration of Cambridge was called in, and workers ordered and built the walk-in unit on-site.
Solar power
In a field adjacent to the two schools on Mace’s Lane is a solar power field, built in 2012. The dozens of panels collect solar energy, turning it into electricity for use in the schools or sale to distributors.
“We don’t own that,” Mr. Hauge said. “It was built for us at basically no cost, but we agreed to buy the electricity that comes off it.”
If power is cheaper from other sources, the schools are free to buy that, instead. Maintenance is the responsibility of Washington Gas and Electric Service, the owners.
“This is really a hedge against the commodity market,” Mr. Hauge said.
“It allows us to diversify,” Mr. Slacum said.
On a sunny day, the field generates all the electricity Mace’s Lane Middle School requires. The state also sent Dorchester schools a check for $170,000 to support the project.
“That’s a good deal,” Mr. Hauge said. “When the sun’s out, that thing is spinning the meter backwards.”
Also in terms of renewable resources, Mace’s Lane and Choptank were the first county schools to use geothermal energy.
Vienna and Hurlock
“At Vienna Elementary School, the floorcoverings in the media center and pod areas were replaced. Additionally, a two-classroom, portable classroom at VES was renovated with new floorcoverings, new HVAC systems and paint. This work was completed over summer break by DCPS Facilities staff. This work was locally funded,” the memo said.
“At Hurlock Elementary School, a single-classroom portable classroom was placed to help address overcrowding. This is the second portable classroom that has been placed at this school recently. Across the district, several portable classrooms had new HVAC systems installed as part of the summer facilities improvement program.”
The memo also related improvements in security, saying, “Classroom locks were installed on every classroom door that was identified as needing one. Additionally, security fencing was installed around every portable classroom in the district and ‘buzz-in’ systems were installed at every site in the district.”
South Dorchester
One of the smaller schools in the county is South Dorchester Pre-K-8 in Golden Hill. But as a community center and a site or the annual Outdoor Show, no facility is more important to the families that depend on it.
With the school having been built 68 years ago, not many will be surprised that the gym floor needed replacement.
In fact, layer upon layer needed work. “This is like a Dagwood sandwich, it’s a whole lot,” Mr. Hauge said.
The original slab was not level, so that had to be fixed, or there would have been deviations in the new floor. A metal stud sleeper system was placed on the slab, followed by a vapor barrier, plywood, and another vapor barrier.
Craftsmen were on the job over the summer, installing pre-finished maple hardwood on top of all that, to give the children and adults from Down Below a top-quality surface for sports and community events.
“The Outdoor Show will happen here like always does,” Mr. Hauge said. “That’s the heaviest use.”
It’s been a busy summer for the Facilities Department staff, but one that has seen advances throughout the district.
Mr. Hauge checked down the list of improvements to – and replacements of – the county’s high and middle schools. Next up? Tackling the “open space” design of the elementary schools, something that was built with high hopes years ago, but hasn’t always lived up to its promise.
Though there is still plenty of work to do, Mr. Hauge is pleased with the progress seen in Dorchester Schools over recent years.
“Have we traveled miles in this journey?” he asked. “Oh yeah.”
Editor’s note: This is Part III of a three-part series.

Dorchester Banner/DAVE RYAN
Dorchester County Public Schools’ engineers Sam Slacum, left, and Chris Hauge spent the summer guiding improvement projects at several locations. Here, they checked the installation of new playground equipment at Sandy Hill Elementary.

Dave Ryan is editor of the Dorchester Banner. He can be reached at dryan@newszap.com.

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