$48.7 million sought for school construction

September 21, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County will need $48.7 million next fiscal year for 13 school construction projects under the new capital budget proposal from Superintendent Michael E. Hickey.

The proposal, which Dr. Hickey will present to the five-member school board at tomorrow night's meeting, reflects school system efforts to keep up with the fast-growing 36,000-student population, which is expected to increase 35 percent in the next 10 years.

The 13 projects proposed for the 1996 fiscal year, which will begin July 1, include plans for additions at existing schools as a less-expensive alternative to building new schools.

The single biggest expenditure -- $10.9 million -- would go to finish reconstruction of Wilde Lake High School, which is expected to reopen in the fall of 1996 to accommodate roughly 1,400 students, about 200 more than its previous capacity.

Two elementary schools expected to open in the 1997-1998 school year, one in the western part of the county and the other in the northern part, would get $13.3 million for continuation of construction.

"Obviously, we're still dealing with the rapid growth, and we will continue to do so," said Dr. Hickey, adding that the budgets for the next five years will test the county's ability to fund capital projects.

He also said the ambitious capital budget proposal "still does not include a lot of renovations that people say [need] to be done."

ABout $800,000 has been budgeted for plans to renovate the School of Technology and to build additions to Howard and Centennial high schools. New in the 1996 fiscal year budget is $200,000 to plan additions at Guilford and Hammond elementary schools, both in the fast-growing southeastern region of the county.

Next fiscal year's budget is a snapshot of what the county will have to spend in the next decade to build, renovate and construct additions to enough schools for the 12,500 new students expected to enroll by 2006.

School officials estimate that the school system will have to spend $292.8 million to build or add to 25 elementary, middle and high schools to keep up with that growth. Eight related projects would include replacing roofs, purchasing nine additional portable classrooms and buying land for school sites.

"In spite of the bottom line, it's a conservative budget," Associate Superintendent Maurice Kalin said.

Dr. Hickey's proposal is based on the assumptions that the county will contribute an average of $20.7 million a year, that the state will reimburse the county at an average of $5 million a year and that the county's transfer tax revenue, ear-marked for school projects, will average $3.5 million a year.

Among the highlights of Dr. Hickey's short- and long-term capital budget proposal:

* The elimination of a planned southeastern area elementary school, which was to have opened in the fall of 1999. Instead, additions will be built at current elementary schools. But a new northeastern elementary school, scheduled to open in 1999, has been added to the plan.

* Completion of an addition to Howard High School by 1998, instead of 2001, as had originally been planned. The addition would free 300 seats for a technology education magnet program at the eastern high school under construction. It also would give Howard High a capacity of 1,600 students, making it one of the county's biggest high schools.

Meanwhile, an addition proposed for Centennial High School in 1997 has been postponed until 1998.

* A $5 million reduction in money for renovations of older schools, to $10 million a year, starting in 2002.

* A delay in the construction of a new school to replace 60-year-old Ellicott Mills Middle School. The new school's opening has been pushed from 1999 to 2002.

The Ellicott Mills proposal disappointed Joseph Annelli, president of Ellicott Mills' PTA, which has worked with school system officials in the past on minor renovations at the school.

"By pushing the replacement for the school back, that's just increasing the inequity of the residents in this Ellicott Mills community," he said. "They are stocking those schools with the latest technology and providing an educational environment for those students to succeed. By the luck of the draw, they are condemning our students to substandard education."

Associate Superintendent Sydney Cousin, who is in charge of school construction, said the school system has started a project worth more than $4 million to buy computers and equipment for older schools.

"It's true, Ellicott Mills is an old facility, and it's in need of replacement or renovation," he said.

The proposal to delay construction of a new Ellicott Mills school was "done with great, great reluctance," Dr. Cousin said. "I'm sorry that it had to happen that way. While Ellicott Mills is the oldest middle school in the county, they do have seats right now. The building is not unsafe or anything like that; it's just old."

The school board will hold a public hearing on the proposed capital budget Oct. 6 and is scheduled to vote on it Oct. 13.

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