Budget OK'd repairs to older schools likely

July 19, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

After years of neglect, the county's older schools appear likely to finally get the sprucing up they so desperately need.

About $10.5 million would go toward school repairs and renovations under the estimated $19 million 1993-1994 capital budget passed by the school board Monday night.

The budget, which now goes to the County Council, includes more money than ever before for repairs and renovations, said board member George Lisby.

"We must manage and take care of our older buildings because the longer they are not serviced, the greater the cost will be to take care of them in the end," said Mr. Lisby, who finished his one-year term as board president Monday.

Anne Sterling, who succeeds Mr. Lisby as president, agreed. "At the rate we were going, it was going to take 20 years to make repairs to older schools which need repairs now," she said. "By that time, the schools we are building today will need repairs."

In the past, the school board has sought to repair only a few schools at a time because of a lack of county money and an emphasis on building new schools to keep up with the county's population boom. New schools must continue to be built for a public school population that has grown from about 28,000 students five years ago to 33,000 today and is expected to rise to 42,000 by 1997.

But, board member Keith Williams warned: "These older schools won't fall down today, but if they don't get some attention soon, we could be in serious trouble. Any time you have leaking roofs or broken windows, you have major problems."

Mr. Lisby led a successful lobbying campaign earlier this year to persuade the County Council and County Executive Eileen Rehrmann to allocate $2.3 million to fix about 15 deteriorating roofs on the oldest of the county's 45 schools. School officials had initially planned to seek only $600,000, to replace two or three roofs.

While the money for roofs is included in the $10.5 million component of the 1993-1994 budget, at least some of it will be spent this year to begin repairs, Mr. Lisby said.

After that successful lobbying effort, Superintendent Ray R. Keech urged the board to ask the county for all the money it needs to replace windows and lighting at four older schools instead of only two.

He also successfully argued for $155,000 to modernize lighting at six schools instead of budgeting $105,000, which would have covered only three schools.

The board also granted Mr. Keech's request to include $525,000 at three elementary schools slated for renovation: Darlington, Roye-Williams and Youth's Benefit. Air-conditioning will never be added to the older schools unless it is done during renovations, the superintendent said.

Board members, however, said the cost of air-conditioning the schools could be much greater if electrical service had to be significantly upgraded or if asbestos must be removed.

Ms. Sterling, the school board president, said "test holes" to detect asbestos can be made in the ceiling. If any is found, air-conditioning may be delayed, she said.

School administrators' budget proposal passed intact, with four members voting for it: Ms. Sterling, Mr. Lisby, Mr. Williams and Percy Williams. Member Ronald Eaton was absent.

Violet Merryman, who retired from the board Monday evening, abstained from voting because she said she is concerned that the final costs for repairing the older buildings will be significantly higher than budgeted.

Michael J. Harris, the board's new student representative, cast the only dissenting vote. Mr. Harris, a senior at Joppatowne High School, said the $370,000 requested for new athletic field lighting at Aberdeen High School should be given a high priority.

"I have played on that field, and it is a safety hazard," said Mr. Harris, a high school football player.

But the board put it next to last on its list of budget priorities.

Only a request for about $260,000 to build a 60,000-square-foot school administration building placed lower on the board's list. The school administration has sought the addition annually for two decades.

Part of the budget had been previously approved by the council at its June meeting.

This included money to buy the rest of the furniture and equipment needed for the Riverside-area elementary school, to build and equip an elementary school in Bel Air at Country Walk (September 1994 opening), to build a 300-pupil addition at Bel Air Middle School and to plan a 300-pupil addition at C. Milton Wright High School.

Capital budget highlights

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Capital budget highlights Highlights of the estimated $19 million 1993-1994 capital budget approved by the school board (listed in order of the board's priorities):

* Furniture and equipment for the Riverside-area elementary school (scheduled to open in 1993): $150,000.

* Six relocatable classrooms and relocation of eight others: $640,000.

* Construction, furniture and equipment for a 600-student elementary school in Bel Air (scheduled to open in 1994): $2.4 million.

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