Maintenance at schools gets short shrift Building projects can overshadow needs for carpet, boilers, roofs

Budget hearing tonight

$68 million backlog not likely to get high priority

September 18, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Call them the Rodney Dangerfields of school construction projects.

They get no respect, have no constituencies and probably won't get much attention at tonight's school board capital budget hearing. Yet, without them, schools could not operate.

Competing with the high-profile requests to renovate old schools and build new ones at tonight's school board capital budget hearing is the $68 million maintenance backlog.

But unlike the school building projects, there is no booster club for boilers, roofs and carpeting.

"It is not that they are not important," said Ralph A. Luther, school facilities chief. "If you look at the first few priorities, they are things we have to do for the health, safety and welfare of our students and our faculty."

For example, federal and state laws require replacement or renovation of underground fuel storage tanks by 1998, and Superintendent Carol S. Parham has $400,000 targeted for that purpose this year.

Occasionally, people have asked the board to buy new furnishings for a specific school or pay for walls to turn cavernous open-space schools into classrooms, said school board President Joseph H. Foster.

But, he said, "nobody jumps up and down and says, 'We really want that underground storage tank.' "

What people really want to talk about and lobby for are the 11 school construction projects, with a price tag of $25.6 million this year that make up more than half of the superintendent's recommended $39.8 million capital request.

The eight projects requiring county bonds would cost $18.1 million, about $4 million more than the county expects to have available for that purpose.

John Hammond, the county budget officer, said the county has no intention of letting bond money go for carpet replacement, a $200,000 request, because the carpet would not last the life of a 15- or 20-year bond.

So PTAs and other advocates will line up to speak -- each community fending for itself -- at budget hearings now through the spring.

"The money will be spent elsewhere if it isn't on us," said Torrey Jacobsen, treasurer of the Greater Crofton Council.

For the two Crofton projects alone, the community has three people lined up to speak tonight, their words backed by petitions bearing 1,100 signatures. Crofton Middle School and Crofton Elementary School are on Parham's list to get six-room additions.

The plan is to receive planning money in fiscal year 1998, then build the wings in 1999.

Construction money for Fort Smallwood, Jones and Belvedere elementary schools is in Parham's 1998 recommendation, but budget officials do not have those schools penciled in for money next year.

Esther Parker, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, is directing a different approach this year for her organization. Caught among the needs of older schools, the need to accommodate more students and the need to tackle systemwide issues such as maintenance, the PTA will not take a position until after its Oct. 1 budget forum.

Equity has "been a sore subject in this county for a long time. I want to unite the parents. We need to speak with a united front and not a special interest group," Parker said.

The hearing begins at 7: 30 p.m. at Board of Education headquarters in Annapolis.

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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