Why 'building cheap' can be expensive Rapidly outmoded Broadneck High a lesson in poor planning.

August 05, 1996

DURING TIMES of austerity, the tendency is to cut corners in hopes of stretching the available money as far as possible. It's a sound and laudable goal. But the current $24.8 million renovation and expansion of Broadneck High School provides a lesson in the pitfalls of attempting to shave costs too close.

When the high school opened in the heart of the Broadneck Peninsula in the early 1980s, Anne Arundel County had just gone through a frenzy of school construction. By the time the Broadneck project came up for financing, the county had fewer dollars to spend. Pushed by a politically active and growing community that wanted its own high school, the county approved construction with a few, large compromises to pare the overall cost.

In hindsight, those immediate savings were penny-wise and pound-foolish. The school was built without an auditorium or space for a ninth-grade. Since the state government doesn't share in the cost of financing auditorium construction, it seemed reasonable to forego an auditorium until the county had more money. Eventually one was added, but the addition was substantially more expensive than had it been part of the original construction.

Leaving no room for a ninth-grade also came back to haunt the system. Over the past decade across Maryland, middle schools -- which include sixth, seventh and eighth grades -- have come to replace junior high schools, which comprised grades seven through nine. Given the cash crunch when Broadneck was planned, the easy decision was to eliminate space for a ninth grade. Parents agreed it was better than having no high school at all.

But people eventually became dissatisfied with the decision, which left Broadneck with the last three-grade senior high school in the state. The money being used to correct the inequities created by the original "savings" could now fund a complete new middle school or two elementaries, as well as some roof replacements and other needed renovations.

As county officials and politicians fight over diminishing resources for school construction in Pasadena and elsewhere, they ought to keep in mind the unfortunate history of building on the cheap in Broadneck and how that "savings" turned out to be extremely costly.

Pub Date: 8/05/96

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