$80 million is approved for school construction

April 13, 1993|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Staff Writer

Faced with a growing student population and aging schools, the state legislature approved yesterday $80 million for public school construction, one of the largest budgets since the 1970s.

The funds for schools -- $20 million more than the amount requested by Gov. William Donald Schaefer -- will help ease an "enormous backlog," said Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's County.

State officials will decide later this month what school projects will be funded with the extra money.

The school funding was part of the $350 million capital budget consisting of more than 140 projects ranging from prisons and hospitals to wastewater treatment plants, museums and parkland.

House and Senate conferees spent three days haggling and pleading for pet projects. As they munched on Cajun chicken and worked through a blackout Sunday night, the six conferees were also the targets of last-minute lobbying.

During one of their sessions, a plainclothes state police officer strode into the room and quietly distributed envelopes to several members. "My friend," began the letter from Sen. Clarence W. Blount, D-Baltimore, who quickly got to his point: $1 million each for two city projects, an ambulatory care center at Liberty Medical Center and a day care center at Union Baptist Church. He got both.

Another letter arrived from Mr. Schaefer, who requested $400,000 to move My Sister's Place, a Baltimore shelter for homeless women that was destroyed in an arson fire last week. That was approved, too.

Some lawmakers joked as they moved to approve some of the local projects, derisively known as pork barrel.

Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, questioned the need for spending millions for urban renewal in Rockville. Sen. Laurence Levitan, D-Montgomery, a conferee whose district borders Rockville, said the area was in "poor shape" and that its revitalization would boost state tax revenues.

"Oink, oink, oink," a smiling Sen. James C. Simpson, D-Charles, said just before the Senate vote.

Mr. Maloney, a conferee, emerged a big winner, picking up $2.5 million for construction of a minor league

baseball stadium in his home county and $2.2 million toward a performing arts center at the University of Maryland College Park.

4 Some of the major projects and spending include:

* $13 million for parkland acquisition, known as Program Open Space, exceeding by more than $4 million what the governor had requested.

* $6 million toward a new cancer center at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

* $7 million for the the Christopher Columbus Center of Marine Research at the Inner Harbor.

* $4 million for the Silver Spring urban renewal project.

* $2 million for the renovation of Rockville.

Lawmakers and state officials say the legislature's move to boost school construction money will ease a strain on the counties, particularly the high-growth areas. "Montgomery County has a lot of school construction needs," said Del. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., D-Montgomery.

Local jurisdictions requested about $200 million for school construction last fall. Baltimore and Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore counties made the most requests.

In January, the Board of Public Works approved $47 million for 74 school construction projects for the fiscal year that will begin July 1. In addition, $7 million in surplus funds was available.

The $80 million approved for next year is the second-biggest school construction budget since 1976, when the legislature approved $160 million. In 1990, lawmakers voted $88 million for school construction.

"I think it's great," said Yale Stenzler, executive director of the Interagency Committee on School Construction, which recommends school projects to the Board of Public Works.

But Sidney Kramer, chairman of the Governor's Commission on School Construction, said it won't be enough.

"It's going to have to be well over $100 million," said Mr. Kramer, a former Montgomery County executive whose commission will issue a report in June.

State officials expect Maryland's public school student population of 735,769 to rise to 797,880 by 1995 and to 849,840 by 2000. Of the estimated 1,300 public schools in the state, 609 are at least 30 years old, although most have been renovated.

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