Broadneck Boondoggle?

October 10, 1994

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education's new construction budget for fiscal year 1996 makes us wonder if school and county officials have their priorities straight.

The board's highest-ranking major construction project is an addition to Broadneck High School at a cost of $22 million, most of which will come from county coffers.

That is tremendously expensive considering that the average cost of a whole new high school in Maryland is $30 million. Broadneck does not suffer from overcrowding, nor is the school, built in 1982, in horrible shape. School officials, Broadneck residents and County Councilwoman Diane R. Evans want this project so that area ninth graders, now housed at Severn River Junior High, can be part of a senior high. It's a matter of equity, they say.

Since other ninth-graders attend a senior high, it would be best if Broadneck kids did, too. The question is, at what cost? And at the expense of what other desperately needed school projects? Does it make sense to spend $22 million over the next two years -- roughly the cost of a new elementary or middle school, plus one or two renovations -- on an addition to a fairly new building that is not overcrowded nor likely to become so when many other schools have leaky roofs, no air conditioning and are otherwise falling apart?

Some of these schools look like they were built before the Civil War, yet the capital budget ignores them until the end of the decade or beyond. One board member commented that conditions at Jones Elementary in Severna Park rank among the worst in the county. But the system won't even begin planning improvements there until 1999.

GOP county executive candidate John G. Gary mentions building a new high school and converting the existing facility to a middle school -- an idea that would make sense if the area needed another middle school. But it doesn't.

We understand why Broadneck parents want this project. But can it be done for less than $22 million, especially when so many other county schools need help?

As the county executive candidates are sparing over the adequacy of school planning in Anne Arundel over the past decade, Broadneck High, as much as any school, exemplifies the poor capital planning that the county has suffered.

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