Desks or roofs? School board delays no-win choice BALTIMORE COUNTY

December 18, 1992|By Mary Maushard and Frank D. Roylance | Mary Maushard and Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writers

The Baltimore County Board of Education last night put off a no-win choice between desks and roofs as it considered plans to defer $11 million in capital expenditures.

The department's planners had recommended that the board spend $3.2 million to reopen Cromwell Elementary School and another $3 million to convert two technical schools to comprehensive high schools in a move to relieve overcrowding.

At the same time, they recommended deferring $11.3 million for roof repairs and $1.2 million for portable classrooms in a complicated revision of spending plans that became necessary when County Executive Roger B. Hayden ordered the board to delay $11 million of its $46 million capital budget over 18 months.

The spending was approved by voters in November, but Mr. Hayden and finance officials want to hold off selling bonds to save money and preserve the county's AAA bond rating.

The board tabled action, asking its staff for more data on the real costs of the delayed expenditures.

"Someone has to look at the total costs of failing to make repairs and prove to us that they are saving money," said board Vice President Calvin Disney.

Superintendent Stuart Berger said, "I don't think it's possible to say the administration recommends [the deferred spending] be done. I think the administration has no choice."

He noted that the county is worried about residents moving to other counties, and said, "It is my view . . . that if they let the social infrastructure fall apart, they will simply hasten that out-migration."

The proposals, from planning director James Kraft, reveal the following changes in plans and shifts in priorities over the next two years:

* The business and finance building at the Greenwood headquarters on North Charles Street will be temporarily closed for asbestos removal. Its staff will be moved to a yet-to-be-determined site.

* When the Greenwood building reopens, it will house 140 employees from the curriculum and instruction department now in the Cromwell building on Providence Road.

* Cromwell, converted to offices in the early 1980s, is expected to reopen in September 1994 as an elementary school for 500 students.

* The school system is proposing a new office building on the Greenwood property to house employees from the business departments.

The board was asked to transfer $5.1 million from one set of capital projects to another to make these moves possible. The transfer of $2.8 million approved at the last board meeting was rescinded and the money included in the new proposal.

Other changes include eliminating $400,000 earmarked for modernization at Towson High School; delaying once again the new Mays Chapel Elementary at a savings of $344,000; cutting $1 million from Hereford High School renovations and $1.6 million from the new Jacksonville Elementary School.

"What the board is faced with is really a terrible dilemma. Their choice is seats or roofs," Mr. Kraft said. With the school population growing at about 3,000 students every year and the 148 buildings growing older and needing repair, "this is a terrible task."

To free funds for the expenditures at Cromwell and the two technical schools -- Central in Towson and Western in Catonsville -- the planning staff also proposed cutting $3.7 million in asbestos abatement, including a $2 million project at Middle River Middle and $1.5 million for an addition to Hereford Middle. That will leave $3 million for the Hereford project in the current capital budget.

By converting the two vocational-technical schools to comprehensive magnet high schools, the county will be able to accommodate about 1,500 more high school students, said Mr. Kraft. At the cost of $3.2 million, "it's an amazing bargain," he said.

Central Technical School in Towson will become Carver School for Arts and Technology and Western will become a school of technology and environmental science.

The Cromwell renovation also will cost about $3 million. A new school would cost at least twice as much, Mr. Kraft said.

In other action, the board:

* Unveiled a photo portrait of Dr. Robert Y. Dubel, who retired in June after 16 years as superintendent. Dr. Dubel was expected to attend the ceremony.

* Tabled a plan to make Milford Mill High and Kenwood High magnet schools for the International Baccalaureate program, a two-year curriculum designed to provide students with a balanced education and promote international understanding.

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