Proposal made for school

April 26, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll County's commissioners yesterday announced a plan to pay for Oklahoma Road Middle School that they said will allow them to break ground for the school in July.

The plan allows the commissioners to keep a promise they made last fall to South Carroll residents to open the $12 million school in the fall of 1996 even if the state did not contribute money.

Building the school also means the county will not have to prohibit homebuilding in the Freedom area to slow growth. Sykesville Middle already is over its capacity.

"I'm thrilled," said Kathy Horneman, chairwoman of the South Carroll Coalition, a citizens' group that led the fight for the new school.

School Board President Carolyn Scott said, "We're happy to hear they're so supportive of the new school."

Vernon Smith, director of school support services, said the commissioners' strategy is reasonable, but their timetable may be too tight. All work would have to be completed on schedule to open the school in two years, he said.

"It's very optimistic to say it will be September of '96, but stranger things have happened," Mr. Smith said.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said, "It could happen, if everything clicks. Vernon may be right, because those things always have some hitches in them you don't anticipate."

Two decisions by state officials last week made the financing plan possible. Mr. Dell said Carroll Planning Director Edmund R. Cueman and Budget Director Steven D. Powell worked out the details.

"They moved figures around to make things work," he said.

Wednesday, the state Board of Public Works gave the county approval to plan Oklahoma Road Middle in fiscal year 1995. That means the state will contribute at least $3 million to the project in fiscal 1996. Fiscal 1995 begins July 1.

The Board of Public Works also agreed to reimburse the county for $2.5 million it spent to build Piney Ridge Elementary, which opened in 1991. About $1 million of that money will be used to pay for Oklahoma Road Middle, Mr. Cueman said.

The county plans to pay for the new school in two phases. That means the commissioners will not have to postpone other capital projects to build the school, he said.

The planning commission had warned in December that if the state did not contribute $6 million toward the cost of the school, the project might wipe out other capital projects.

"Next year would be a nightmare if you did that," Mr. Cueman said.

The county probably will pay most of the cost of the new school -- about $9 million -- because county officials believe an 800-student school is needed. State officials gave their approval for a 400-student school.

The state usually pays about 60 percent of the cost of a new school.

In the financing plan announced yesterday, the commissioners proposed to allocate $1.1 million from impact fees assessed on developers and $3.5 million in bonds in fiscal 1995 for the school.

But they will need to spend only about $2.6 million in fiscal 1995 to prepare the school site.

In fiscal 1996, the state will give the county at least $3 million for construction. The county will add $2 million it allocated in fiscal 1995, and will have to find about $5 million to complete the project.

While Ms. Horneman said she is happy the project is moving forward, she criticized the way the county plans and pays for schools.

"We need to get much more fiscally aggressive," she said. "We

TC need to borrow more money while interest rates are low and fund these school projects. I am tired of sacrificing children for a way too conservative fiscal approach."

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