Older schools need money for renovations, parents say

July 22, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Charles Scudder's walks through Talbott Springs Elementary School remind him of his school days 35 years back.

The gym, the desks, the intercom system, the library card catalog files -- they all look the same, which is distressing to this father of two.

"The brand new schools are getting everything -- absolutely hTC everything," he said. "They have to start putting money into these older schools."

He and other parents are asking the Board of Education to channel some school construction money toward renovation of Howard County's older schools, most of which are in Columbia.

"Our goal probably since the beginning of this year has been to get across to the board the fact that the older schools, they're just falling behind the times, in terms of physical plant," he said.

He and others will get a chance to voice their concerns at today's Board of Education hearing, at which the microphone will be opened for discussion on school construction and renovations.

The problem that faces Howard schools is twofold: The school system must find enough seats for the additional 1,500 students that enroll each year, as well as modernize the 30 other schools that were built 20 to 30 years ago. The school system plans to meet rising enrollment by building 12 more schools by 2001, at an estimated cost of $133 million, said Associate Superintendent Sydney Cousin.

But the answer is not so easy.

"How can we afford to do what we have to do?" asks Dr. Cousin, who's in charge of operation and finance. "What do we do with our existing facilities?"

School officials are exploring alternative solutions to overcrowding, including going to year-round schooling, double-shifting and increasing class size. Last year, they hired Crystal Hill Investments Inc., a consulting firm, to look into leasing schools instead of building them. In April, the firm presented a report that praised school officials for having cut construction costs to the bone.

School officials say they'll commission a survey this fall to gauge parental interest in year-round schools, which they say would increase each school's capacity by 25 percent.

Among parents expected to attend today's meeting are those from the Oakland Mills area, where parents have been clamoring for school officials to direct some money to modernize their aging schools. Steven's Forest Elementary School needs a new gym.

Steven's Forest also needs an additional staff-only bathroom and an upgrade in the heating and cooling systems, as well as 20 more parking spaces. Thunder Hill Elementary School needs a new heating and cooling system and an additional classroom pod, and Talbott Springs Elementary School needs replacement of playground equipment, urinals, sinks and tiles as well as carpeting.

School officials must propose a capital improvement budget for 1996 to 2000 in September. The board will hold another public hearing Oct. 7 and vote on the budget Oct. 14.

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