Books and order, not brick and mortar School board better suited to manage classrooms, not construction.

September 16, 1996

IF THE ANNE ARUNDEL Board of Education wants to steal some of the thunder from County Executive John G. Gary, it should agree to relinquish control of its construction program. Despite the board's best efforts to correct past mistakes, there continues to be a steady stream of new humiliating revelations. These mix-ups reinforce Mr. Gary's assertions that the school administrators are incompetent construction managers and should be relieved of the multi-million dollar building program.

The most recent embarrassing incident involved the new Park Elementary School. The Brooklyn Park school's water system had been connected to a water main with inadequate pressure. Had there been a fire, the water flow would have been insufficient to supply the building's sprinkler system and firefighters' hoses. As a result, two 3,000-gallon tanks have been placed next to the school until the proper connections are completed.

Unlike past mistakes in planning and estimating construction costs, this incident involved supervision of the contractor installing the water main. Unable to find the 12-inch main under Ritchie Highway, the contractor hooked the school to a 10-inch main. Fortunately, fire inspectors caught the mistake before the school opened.

Anne Arundel's school board members can dismiss this latest blunder as inconsequential and easy to correct, but this repeated bungling is taking its toll on the system's credibility. It is natural for residents to wonder if administrators are as incompetent in managing the instructional program as they are construction. The steady drumbeat of construction snafus distort perceptions. If there is a backlash against the system, the students -- not the board members and bureaucrats -- invariably will bear its brunt.

Why cling to the construction duty if it only serves to undermine the school board's primary mission -- educating children? If the system is reluctant to give up all the responsibility for planning and building new schools, maybe it could share the job with county officials. They may be no better at planning, estimating costs or supervising construction than education officials, but at least the school system won't be solely to blame for future missteps.

Pub Date: 9/16/96

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