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School courtyard to get new look

April 13, 2009

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- It started with a fairly simple landscaping project in front of Fountaindale School for the Arts and Academic Excellence on Northern Avenue. As a PTA member, Steven O'Farrell rolled up his sleeves and helped make the project happen.

"Then someone asked if I'd seen the courtyard. I didn't even know there was one," said O'Farrell, 38.

It was a surprise to O'Farrell's wife, Emily (Bowen) O'Farrell, who was a student at Fountaindale years ago.

The O'Farrells, who live in Fountain Head, have two sons -- Patrick, 7, a first-grader at the school, and Michael, 4.

The courtyard is about a 10,000-square-foot space, surrounded by the school building.

"I was amazed at the size and condition. It seemed like a nice next step, to carry it into the courtyard," said Steven O'Farrell, who is serving as the project manager.

Currently, the space features two trees in the center of the space, with overgrown brick areas throughout. After a year of planning and multiple obstacles -- including zoning codes, accessibility issues, no utilities and the space essentially being a bilevel area -- a final plan is ready for action.

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For O'Farrell's efforts, Cindy Dean, Fountaindale family and community partnership coordinator, nominated him for the 2009 Comcast Parent Involvement Matters Awards program.

O'Farrell recently learned that he was chosen as Washington County's nominee and will join nominees from Maryland's other 23 school systems at the awards celebration May 8 in Baltimore. Five finalists and a statewide winner will be announced that day.

O'Farrell admits the project became larger and better than his original idea of cleaning up the space to use as is. As a commercial appraiser and vice president with William G. Bowen Inc., O'Farrell is in somewhat familiar territory.

With the help of architect Scott Bowen, who is donating his time, the needs of the staff and PTA were surveyed. Then a plan was developed that ties in with Fountaindale being an arts magnet school.

Once the project is complete, the space will include a raised performance stage with bowl-shaped side-hill seating area, according to the project proposal. It will have new brick and concrete sidewalks, and existing sidewalks and patio areas will be cleaned, stained and sealed.

There also will be a new concrete stairway, stamped concrete pathways, exterior lighting, bench seating, a new lawn area, ornamental landscaping and several learning centers.

"We wanted the courtyard to be an amenity/resource for a school that promotes the arts. The idea of a stage was a good centerpiece," O'Farrell said.

The next step is to establish a public-private educational partnership with the Washington County Board of Education. The estimated project cost is more than $70,000, with more than $27,000 in materials, time and labor donated.

The remaining $43,000 will be covered in part by a $15,000 donation from the Fountaindale PTA and additional donations are being sought. Organizers hope the school board will contribute $10,000 to the project.

O'Farrell said he couldn't have gotten to this point without Bowen and a lot of volunteers. He's counting on those volunteers to help with the labor on the project.

"I haven't had one person say 'no,'" O'Farrell said.

He said he's also grateful for the local businesses who have offered discounts.

He said the project will need to be completed when there are no students at the school and hopes work can begin next summer, allowing a year for fundraising.

In the meantime, O'Farrell is looking forward to the Comcast awards ceremony in May. "Whenever you get nominated for something like this, it's kind of a surprise," O'Farrell said, adding that it is an honor to be nominated.

Contributions for the school project can be made to Fountaindale PTA, 901 Northern Ave., Hagerstown, MD 21742. Those writing checks should include the word "Courtyard" in the memo line of the check. Donations are tax-deductible.

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