School Board's Building Plan Too Costly, Says Rehrmann

July 14, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann plans a commission to find alternatives to a plan for 15 new schools that were included in a $108 million building program embraced last week by the school board.

A six-year program of that magnitude may be more than the county can afford, said Rehrmann.

The appointed panel will study ways to save money on constructionand financing but will not examine school redistricting or whether the system makes efficient use of excess school capacity, the executive said Thursday.

On Monday, the Board of Education adopted a $17.9million list of construction priorities for the 1993 fiscal year, which runs July 1 to June 30, as the first step in the six-year capitalimprovement program.

The 1993 budget would lay the first step forthe entire $108 million long-term building plan. The expansion is necessary to provide space for more than 9,000 new students -- a 29 percent increase -- projected by 1996, Harford school superintendent RayR. Keech said last week.

"We need to examine the way we're doing business and see if we can do it in a more cost-effective way," Rehrmann said. "We haven't had a comprehensive look at the school construction program in a long time."

Rehrmann said she'll appoint the commission within the next two weeks. It will include representatives from the County Council, Parent Teacher Association, Harford County Education Association and the financial and construction industries.

The school board took no formal action last week on the specific costof its $17.9 million fiscal 1993 capital budget or its six-year,

$108 million plan. But adopting the 17-item priority list is the first step in seeking money from the county and state for fiscal year 1993.

The school board's capital improvement plans for 1993 concentrate on elementary schools, including furniture and equipment for the Route 543 school scheduled to open by August 1993; construction of schools in Belcamp and Forest Lake by August 1994; and planning money for a school in Bel Air to open in 1995.

The six-year plan would accelerate the construction of eight more elementary schools, a middle school and a high school by 1998.

But Rehrmann warned that the county cannot afford to commit so much of its own money because it's doubtful that the state would be willing to assist school construction atsuch a rapid rate.

The board's tentative $17.9 million capital budget for 1993 would require a county contribution of $14.3 million, compared with the $4.8 million adopted previously by the county in itsown five-year plan. The county share of the school system's capital budget when fiscal year 1992 began July 1 was just under $5 million.

Rehrmann suggested studying a "cookie-cutter" approach to construction, relying on a uniform central core for each new school that can be expanded and contracted with mobile modular additions as the student body ebbs and flows.

She ruled out following the example set byAnne Arundel, whose County Council has tied up construction money toforce an examination of saving money through redistricting by its school board, which also has a $100 million expansion plan.

Rehrmannsaid only the school board has the authority to explore redrawing attendance boundaries that would allow busing of students from overcrowded schools in the Bel Air area to take advantage of extra classroom space in the Aberdeen-Edgewood corridor.

The school board has rejected that option because the excess capacity would be overwhelmed within three years by a flood of new students. Merely the mention of theidea panicked many parents in the greater Bel Air area last month.

The school board did approve two outlines to shift some students around to save $840,000 intended for portable classrooms.

Fifth-graders from Prospect Mill will be moved in September 1992 to Southhampton Middle, where they were already destined to attend sixth grade.

Similarly, a section of Fallston High School will be used for the school year beginning September 1992 to house sixth-graders who will move the next year to the new Fallston Middle School when it opens.

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