Baltimore Co., facing schools squeeze, considers going modular

October 31, 1990|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

Faced with a tax cap that would restrict revenue and with predictions of dramatic enrollment increases, Baltimore County officials are looking at modular schools and classrooms as a way to save money and house students.

Yesterday, the County Council heard a 45-minute presentation on how the county could save time and money by building modular schools and adding modular classrooms to existing schools.

"It's economically competitive, and the advantages are your facilities are not locked into any one location," said William Ryan, vice president of Williams Modular Structures, a Baltimore-based firm that builds modular schools, jails and office buildings.

Council Chairman C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said Mr. Ryan had been invited to make his sales pitch so that council members could begin looking for ways to deal with the budget crunch and with the enrollment increases anticipated for the coming years.

Mr. Ruppersberger said the county must look for ways to cut school construction costs. A committee of school and county officials will be set up to look at the advantages and disadvantages of modular schools and classrooms, he said.

"We need to establish a plan for how we're going to build and how we're going to pay for these types of programs," Mr. Ruppersberger said.

The county, which currently has 86,865 students, anticipates steady increases over the next 10 years that will boost enrollment to 123,442 by the year 2000.

County planners expect roughly 4,000 more students next year, said Richard Bavaria, a county schools spokesman.

Moreover, county voters will decide Nov. 6 whether to approve a charter amendment that would limit increases in county property tax revenue to 2 percent a year. County officials say the amendment, which is expected to pass, would severely restrict revenue.

Chief school planner James Kraft, who was at the council session, said the county purchased 80 relocatable classrooms to deal with explosive enrollment increases in 1970. They also bought six in 1989 and 16 more last year.

Most are clustered in the growing communities around Owings Mills, Perry Hall and White Marsh.

But Mr. Ryan said that modular construction allows for the building of entire schools -- not just classrooms and building additions.

He told the council that his firm recently completed a one-story, brick-exterior modular elementary school in Cape May, N.J., that took four months to complete and has a capacity for 814 students. It cost roughly $81 per square foot, he said.

The traditional school takes about 18 months to complete, Mr. Ryan said, and county officials said average construction costs for most schools run about $97.50 per square foot.

"It's a technology that's being looked at all over the United States," Mr. Ryan said.

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