Wilde Lake plan draws most attention in school budget debate

March 17, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

The Board of Education played its capital budget overture for the County Council yesterday morning, winning both praise and criticism for the $41.1 million proposal for fiscal 1995.

Most of the talk at yesterday's informal meeting centered on plans to level Wilde Lake High School and rebuild it within the next two years to house 500 more students on the same site.

"In a 10-year period, we'll be adding 13,000 students" to the schools countywide, school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said. "That wave is still heading toward its crest. We haven't gotten there yet."

The school board wants $12.2 million for the Wilde Lake project in the coming fiscal year and is asking for another $10.7 million to complete it in fiscal 1996.

The 25-year-old Columbia school "meets the [building] code in virtually no area," Dr. Hickey told the council. "The design doesn't lend itself to expansion or renovation."

The good news, Dr. Hickey said, is that the cost of razing everything except the gymnasium shell and beginning anew is $1 million less than any of four other alternatives considered by the board.

Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said a fifth alternative -- delaying the Wilde Lake project for two years while building additions to other high schools -- could save even more in the short term.

"By doing that first, you could save $6 million," Mr. Drown said.

"That won't solve the problem," countered board member Deborah D. Kendig. "It would leave Glenelg [high school] overcrowded by 500 students.

Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin, the school system's planning expert, said the rebuilding of Wilde Lake is an essential element in relieving projected overcrowding at Glenelg, Atholton, Centennial, and Mount Hebron high schools.

Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, who represents the Wilde Lake district on the council, praised the board for its efforts, but said it needs to bring construction costs down.

"The most important thing is getting good teachers, and next comes supplies and equipment," he said. "The third is buildings."

Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, head of the school system's finance division, said the school system looks beyond its own needs when building or adding on to schools.

Dr. Hickey picked up on that theme, saying, "Sometimes we get tarred with a bunch of extravagance when part [of the construction] is for community use."

The Wilde Lake renovation, for example, will include a community theater. Although the county will have to come up with an extra $1.2 million for the theater, the cost of a free-standing theater would be 10 times that much, Dr. Hickey said.

Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, praised the board for reducing its school construction request by 8.5 percent from the board's preliminary estimates, but prodded members to reach the 10 percent reduction she and County Executive Charles I. Ecker are seeking.

An advisory committee to the executive and the council has recommended that the county not spend more than $25 million on capital projects for all departments, including the Board of Education, in the coming fiscal year.

Some or all of the school board's request will be included in the proposed capital budget Mr. Ecker will send the council April 1. The council can restore any money Mr. Ecker cuts from the request, but it cannot increase the amount asked by the board.

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