Board OKs Berger's capital plan

September 23, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore County school board unanimously approved a record capital budget last night, asking for $130 million over the next two years.

But two proposed elementary schools were removed from the board's priority list for next year. Board members feared those projects -- replacements for the aging Martin Boulevard and Edgemere elementaries -- might jeopardize other long-standing projects.

The board approved money for feasibility studies rather than committing funds for planning and construction in fiscal year 1996 for the elementary schools, located in southeastern Baltimore County.

Depending on the outcome of those studies, work on replacement schools could start as early as July 1996, said James Kraft, the school system's capital planning manager.

More than $48 million of the request will be placed before county voters in November as a school bond referendum.

Included in that bond package is the $12 million modernization of Towson High School, the school board's top priority and a project that has been repeatedly pushed aside by newer schools; a $7.7 million addition to Perry Hall High School; the reopening of Catonsville Middle School at a cost of more than $9 million; additions to Owings Mills and Red House Run elementary schools; and $10 million for new roofs for several schools.

If approved by voters, the money would become available in July and these projects would begin shortly thereafter.

The additional $81 million -- minus whatever the state contributes -- would come from county coffers for use between July 1995 and June 1997. Twenty projects are on the budget.

Among other projects, the board sought to speed up by one year the modernization of Catonsville High School, for which planning was to have begun in July 1996.

The record budget request -- the next highest was $91.5 million in 1992 -- comes as the school system is spending nearly $50 million this year, the "largest capital budget in the history of Baltimore County schools," Mr. Kraft said. More than $43 million being spent in the current fiscal year is county money, much of it from a previous bond issue, with another $6.6 million from the state.

"We have shown our ability to spend that money effectively and open schools on time," Mr. Kraft said. "We're convinced we can spend $50 million a year. We can't go from $50 million to $24 million while our enrollment is surging.

"We wanted to show our needs to keep up with enrollment and prevent deterioration of our buildings."

Although this year's enrollment figures won't be official until Sept. 30, administrators said there are more than 100,000 students this year, an increase of about 4,000 over last fall. Such growth is expected to continue through the year 2000, and many of the county's schools already are overcrowded.

Other highlights of the proposed budget include:

* Three other new schools: Painters Mill elementary and middle schools and Woodholme Elementary. The two elementary schools have been in the school system's long-range plans for some time, but have been moved up, with construction slated to start next summer, if the budget is approved.

* $3.2 million for wiring about 60 schools so they can install up-to-date technology.

* $1 million to make the schools more accessible for students with disabilities.

When the capital budget originally came before the board, it totaled $101 million. But after the public hearing, $28 million -- including $14 million for Martin Boulevard and Edgemere elementaries -- was added.

Martin Boulevard Principal Carolan Stewart described the school's physical condition at that hearing as deplorable, infested with termites and roaches, with lead contamination in the water and inadequate heating.

The Martin Boulevard school was built in 1927. When the superintendent's staff added it to the budget, Edgemere -- three years older -- was also put in for replacement.

But with the decision to delay action, the board agreed to take money from the current year's operating budget for repairs at Martin Boulevard.

The capital budget now moves through separate steps at the state and county levels. The legislature votes on the allocation of state money in April and the County Council will pass its budget in May.

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