Rehrmann Asks Panel To Trim School Building Costs

September 08, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

County Executive Eileen Rehrmann marked the new school year last week by appointing a panel to find ways to build classrooms without busting Harford's budget.

She ordered the 26-member citizen committee to report back by January with construction and financing alternatives to the Board of Education's six-year $108 million expansion plan.

The report would allow Rehrmann to consider ways to cut school construction costs in time to adjust her fiscal 1993 budget proposal, due May 1, 1992.

Rerhmann's advisory panel is headed by Raymond Hamm, senior vice president of Forest Hill Bank, and its members includeschool superintendent Raymond Keech, school board president George Lisby and school union representatives.

The school board's capital spending request, presented Tuesday to the County Council, would build 15 schools and expand others for more than 9,000 new students -- a 29 percent increase -- projected by 1996.

But Rehrmann and councilmembers worry that the county cannot afford so ambitious a program.

"We have adopted a spending affordability limit of $14 million (inborrowing) from the bond market," Rehrmann said Thursday. "The board's request would take that entire $14 million every year and then some."

The council will hold a public hearing Sept. 17 on the board request, which is the first step in seeking state money from the Interagency Committee on School Construction.

State construction support has declined in recent years, with only $60 million parceled out toBaltimore and the 24 counties in fiscal 1992, which began July 1.

The school board's $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 for the year as part of its ownfive-year plan. The county share of the school system's capital budget for fiscal year 1992 July 1 was just less than $5 million.

The county has supported between a third and half of the board's capital requests in recent years.

"It's supposed to be grounded in the number of students and the number of facilities and so forth that will be required," said Councilman Robert Wagner, R-District E, one of two council members Rehrmann named to the construction review panel.

But, Rehrmann noted, the school board does not have the "fiscal responsibility of finding the money."

She said adequate facilities legislation that the council and administration are working on would put abreak on development where children in new homes would overwhelm existing schools.

"We've had tremendous growth and now we've had catch up to us this tremendous need," she said.

With or without the legislation, the county must deal with school board plans to accelerateconstruction of 15 schools through 1998.

The board looked for ways to avoid expensive construction this summer by examining whether some students could be bused from overcrowded schools to areas where there is excess class space.

Although the redistricting alternative was merely an exercise to demonstrate the need for new schools, it set off a wave of panic among parents in the Bel Air area who swore they would not allow their children to be transferred to the Aberdeen-Edgewood corridor.

Redistricting has no support from elected officials. But several council members have already balked at building 15 schools, despite pledges by scores of parents at school board meetings that they would support any tax increase necessary.

"It would be alot less expensive to build another 250 or 300 rooms at a school where we already have a site instead of building entirely new schools," Wagner said. "There's got to be a better economical way of doing it."

He said the county should not overbuild for a temporary surge in the student body.

When the public school population last approached a peak of 34,000 students in the public school system in 1976, Harford also embarked on a 14-year program to build 15 schools. By the time the last class graduated in 1983 after the system reached its peak, the county had three empty elementary schools and an abandoned highschool on its hands.

"I can't get away from believing that this is a bubble in the tube that's going to pass through in six years and down the road we're going to have a bunch of empty schools," Wagner said. "You don't need a school on every block like a bank or a gas station."



(in order of priority)

Project .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Total cost .. Completion date

Route 543 ES .. .. ... .. .. .. .. .$6.2 million .. ..August 1993

Belcamp Area ES .. .. .. .. .. .. ..$6.3 million .. ..August 1994

Route 24 South ES No. 1 .. ... .. ..$5.8 million .. ..August 1995

Bel Air MS addition .. .. .. .. .. .$2.3 million .. .. Sept. 1993

Forest Lake ES .. .. .. .. .. .. .. $6.3 million .. ..August 1994

Harford Glen environmental center ..$2.6 million .. .. Sept. 1995

Administration Building .. .. .. .. $6.9 million .. .. Sept. 1994


(priorities not yet established)

Project .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Total cost .. .Completion date

Edgewood Area ES .. .. .. .. .. ..$6.3 million .. .. .August 1994

Route 24 South ES No. 2 .. .. .. .$6.3 million .. .. .August 1995

Greater Abingdon Area ES .. .. .. $7.3 million .. .. .August 1996

Abingdon Area MS .. .. .. .. .. .$13.4 million .. .. .August 1998

Greater Bel Air ES .. .. .. .. .. $6.3 million .. .. .August 1997

Emmorton Area ES .. .. .. .. .. ..$6.3 million .. .. .August 1998

Havre de Grace Area ES .. .. .. ..$6.3 million .. .. .August 2000

Abingdon Area HS .. .. .. .. .. .. $20 million .. .. .August 1999

Abingdon Area ES .. .. .. .. .. ..$6.3 million .. .. .August 2001

West Bel Air Area ES.. .. .. .. .$6.3 million .. .. .August 2001

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