Howard Co. school board delays renovations Contractors' bids exceed funds, panel says

June 14, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

The science laboratories at Atholton and Howard high schools won't be sporting the "Look of the Future" as soon as teachers and students had hoped.

The Howard County school board last night postponed renovations that were to have been done this summer as part of Maryland's "Look of the Future High School Science Program." The work won't be done until 1997.

Board members also responded to allegations of "institutional racism" in the school system made earlier this week by the Howard County chapter of the NAACP, saying the system has worked hard to correct racial disparities and urging the civil rights group to offer specific examples.

In postponing the renovations, the board decided that the school system couldn't do the work this year because contractors' bids far exceeded the money allocated for the renovations.

The renovations were estimated to cost about $320,000 at Atholton and about $550,000 at Howard, but the lowest bids for each project were more than $350,000 above the estimates.

The bids were so high because they weren't sought until late in the school year after most contractors already had lined up their summer work and also because this year's shortened summer break would have required contractors to pay a lot of overtime to get the work done, said Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin. The summer break will be shorter this year to make up for the time lost during the winter storms.

Cousin predicted that the bids would be lower next year when they're sought in the winter, the time when most renovation projects are put out to bid. But he said the school system may have to look at ways to scale back the projects.

"This is very disappointing, not just to us, but to the schools," said Susan Cook, the board's chairwoman. "There is really no other alternative. "

The work to have been done this summer would have renovated science labs and classrooms at Atholton and Howard.

Grace Lee, the president of Howard's PTSA, said she understood the decision. "Of course I'm disappointed that next year's science students won't get to use the new labs," she said.

In responding to the allegations made Wednesday by the county branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, board members said they were upset that branch President Jenkins Odoms Jr. would level such serious charges without more specifics.

In a press conference, Odoms talked of "institutional racism" throughout the county and described several complaints of racist treatment of blacks in the school system, but refused to reveal names of those involved to protect privacy.

"I find it very disturbing that such a charge is used without specifics being given or being offered to the system," said board member Stephen Bounds. "Any problems that may exist are not addressed by bald allegations instead of specifics."

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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