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'Fish bowl' school library to get walls

May 13, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Ellen Turner's "fish bowl" at Tuscarora Elementary School in Martinsburg is about to get some walls.

The school librarian's affectionately named 6,000-volume library will be enclosed when students return to school in August.

"At one point, you could stand here ... and you could pretty much see through the whole school," Assistant Principal Jena Hinchman said Wednesday near the entrance to the school, which was built without classroom walls in the mid-1970s.

Opened in 1976, Tuscarora Elementary was one of at least five Berkeley County public schools that included "open space" features in their building designs. It is the last to be remodeled to convert learning areas to conventional classrooms, according to Superintendent Manny P. Arvon.

The school district already has remodeled Valley View, Berkeley Heights and Opequon elementary schools, and Arvon said a portion of Rosemont Elementary also featured the open space design, which became popular in the 1970s.

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"It was a big concept that they thought (created a) big community feel, that everyone could see everyone else," Hinchman said. "It was really a hot topic back in the day."

Contractors are expected to submit bids for the work at Tuscarora by May 21 and the project is expected to start soon after June 5, the last day of school, according Don Mitchell, the school district's maintenance director.

Classrooms will remain without doors because a costly reconfiguration of the building's heating and cooling system wasn't included in the project, Mitchell said.

"It's just obvious you could build these schools much cheaper without the partitions," Arvon said when asked about why the design was adopted by school districts across the nation.

In his own teaching experience, Arvon recalled "it was the students that adapted better (to the open environment) than the adults."

Tuscarora's transformation means the two-sided bookshelves that have served as a barrier for the school's library will become obsolete, according to Turner, who has been tasked with finding $12,000 for new shelving units.

"I call this the fish bowl because they see everything I'm doing and I see everything they're doing, and sometimes I feel like we're in a cage in a zoo or something," Turner said.

She was successful in applying for a $7,500 grant from Lowe's Toolbox for Education program for the shelving and a $700 business education partnership award. She also is expected to receive about $1,000 in proceeds from the sale of "Wires," a children's book written and illustrated by fellow school staff members Tyler M. Long, Donna S. Russler and Christopher Fleming.

The book, which was written to help general education students better understand students who have autism, has sold about 150 copies, Russler said.

New on the shelves next year will be a collection of books awarded to the library this spring by the National Endowment for the Humanities and American Library Association through the "We the People" bookshelf program, Turner said.

"I spend an awful lot of time teaching the children how to put the books on the (current) shelves properly because if they don't, it only takes one book to be pushed hard and we've had stacks of books on the floor on other side," Turner said. "So, I don't have to worry about that anymore."

Unlike public and university libraries, Turner said the walls will help with noise disruptions to other classes.

"We need to contain the noise in the library as well as keep the noise out of the library sometimes," Turner said.

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