Board bucks Gary, votes to renovate school Executive sought to build a new Fort Smallwood

August 08, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Bucking pressure and last-minute lobbying from County Executive John G. Gary and Councilman Thomas Redmond Sr. to build a new Fort Smallwood Elementary School, the school board yesterday voted to spend $7.4 million to fix up the old one.

"I've never seen this kind of push on the part of the county executive and a councilman," said Ginny Barrett, Citizen Advisory Committee chairwoman for the 19-year-old Pasadena school.

The board voted 6-1, with Michael A. Pace against and Thomas E. Florestano Sr. absent, to upgrade the the county's most crowded elementary school to hold 604 children instead of spending $11.7 million on a new 600-student school on a nearby site.

The present school building was designed for about 250 children, but it serves about 400.

County officials have disputed school officials' cost estimates for expansion.

Opponents of the Gary-Redmond plan say it is being dangled before residential developers to lure them to build near a new school and planned county golf course.

The Gary administration has made numerous arguments in favor of a new site on Fairview Beach and Fort Smallwood roads.

Eleventh-hour enticements included a promise from Gary to include money in next year's budget to start building a new school and an administration pledge to come up with whatever money the state might disallow. Redmond, a Pasadena Democrat, said that if the Fairview Beach site wasn't suitable, "a site would be picked near the golf course."

"What really bothers me is the way I felt jerked around," said Janet Bury, a new board member who has spent her first month on the job absorbed by this issue.

County budget analyst Ray Elwell and Mimi Kelly, planning supervisor, laid out a list of problems they said would boost the cost of the renovation and addition.

But Rodell E. Phaire, schools planning and construction chief, countered that the issues would be addressed and that the site Gary is proposing is about 7 acres while elementary schools generally need 15 acres.

Gary has been at war with the school system over more than $7 million in cost overruns and unexpected costs in its construction projects over two years. He has said he would "fry their butts" if the Fort Smallwood renovation and expansion exceeded their estimate. Yesterday he reiterated through a spokesman that he expects the project to come in as budgeted.

"We have absolutely no confidence in their numbers," Elwell said yesterday.

Pub Date: 8/08/96

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