State funds for school may be cut County is urged to renovate rather than replace building

Fort Smallwood at issue

Dispute continues, questions remain as budget deadline nears

July 25, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

State delegates told a packed meeting last night that the county is likely to lose state school construction money for Fort Smallwood Elementary School if it builds a new facility instead of renovating and expanding the old one.

But county officials disputed that assessment.

About two dozen Fort Smallwood parents, plus elected officials and school and county government employees, filled the room at the Eastern District Police Station as they sought to get answers to numerous questions that will determine the future of the school. But the meeting yielded more questions than answers.

Republican Del. John R. Leopold of Pasadena said state school funding officials told him this week that they prefer renovations and that replacing Fort Smallwood Elementary could cost the county whatever the state's share might be.

But county budget analyst Ray Elwell said county officials are not at all sure it would work out that way.

Fort Smallwood is the county's most crowded elementary school, and board members are working against a series of state and local budget deadlines to make a decision on whether to renovate or build a new facility.

The board had planned to upgrade and expand the school, and last year County Executive John G. Gary agreed with the panel. But last winter, Gary and County Councilman Thomas Redmond Sr., who represents Pasadena, said they want a new school on a nearby site the county would like to acquire.

Among the school board's still-unanswered questions is whether any of the approximately $1.6 million in state money that went into building Fort Smallwood 19 years ago would have to be repaid if the board chooses to build a new school.

On July 10 the board delayed a vote on whether to go with a new school or continue with plans to renovate so that they could have answers by their Aug. 7 meeting.

But additional issues and tensions are surfacing.

Roadblocks predicted

School board member Michael McNelly said he has heard that if the board votes to go against Gary's desire, "we will have all kinds of roadblocks put in our way."

County officials said they aren't comfortable with the school system's estimates -- at least $11.7 million to build a new school, $4.3 million more than the cost of renovation.

Each side accused the other of not including one cost or another, from road work to storm water control.

The school operated last year with nearly 160 more students than the 247 it is designed to hold.

But some Fort Smallwood parents fear that creating a 600-student school on the existing site would worsen problems such as discolored water and septic tank failures.

Ralph Luther, chief of school facilities management, said those problems are caused by overloading those systems and that upgrading the school includes fixing both.

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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