Schools told how to build for less Construction experts at symposium present free advice to officials

September 22, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The free advice given and promised was the best thing about a symposium on how to build schools for as little money as possible, said Carroll County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown.

The commissioners called a panel of experts in building, design and engineering, along with other key figures in getting schools built. The Friday symposium took up three-quarters of the day for many county and state officials, but Brown said the time was well-spent.

"We're going to be building about $100 million worth of schools in the next six years," Brown said. "If we save 1 percent, we save $1 million."

School enrollment in the county is growing by about 900 students a year, and eight schools are scheduled for construction.

Dick Hull of Carroll Land Services, an engineering and surveying firm, said the county needs to shop more wisely for school land.

"You need to have someone in real estate constantly looking at prices," he said. "You need time on your side. The last thing you want to do is go knocking on doors and say, 'Can we buy your farm?' A school is not an impulse decision."

Before the commissioners buy land, he said, they should know about wetlands status, geology, grading and access.

"You don't want a big surprise after you get on the site," Hull said.

This month, Carroll officials learned that land for an elementary .. school on Cranberry Road has a broad layer of rock that will be expensive to blast.

Bernie Schisler, a county resident who owns one of the more prolific school construction companies in the state, Kraft Construction, also advised the commissioners and the Board of Education to be cautious.

"The school board has to keep the architect in line," Schisler said. "The architects want to build monuments. That pretty school is going to cost you more money."

He got some agreement from a fellow panel member who is an architect.

"Aesthetics have very little to do with the way a child learns," said Melvin Arbaugh. He designed Piney Ridge Elementary School and the renovation of Mount Airy Elementary but now does only private residences and churches.

"I don't like to spend any more tax dollars than I have to," Arbaugh said, saying he comes to school construction with a conservative perspective.

Schisler and Arbaugh offered to give the schools free advice on designing school buildings. Both favored using prototypes, and both criticized the current practice of appointing local residents to a building committee planning a school or renovation. That wastes time, they said, and very few items on the committee members' wish lists get into the final design.

Instead, Arbaugh suggested, the design documents should be made available for public review.

He also recommended using a prototype design and having it in mind as land for schools is purchased.

Schisler criticized using a construction management firm, which rTC school officials say has helped projects along and advocated for them with the contractor building Oklahoma Road Middle School.

Schisler, however, said that shifts the responsibility to the school system for any problems that arise and makes the general contractor less accountable.

Among the panel members was Yale Stenzler, director of the state Interagency Committee on Public School Construction and one of the most influential officials in deciding which projects get money.

Despite the competition, Stenzler said, worthy projects usually get money eventually, even if the counties have to pay and get reimbursed five years later, as with Sandymount Elementary School.

"There has not been a case where we've faltered on a commitment," Stenzler said.

He also warned that by 2006, the state will face the aging buildings built in the boom between 1971 and 1976.

"There will be $1 billion worth of square footage that is 30 years old coming of age," he said. "Although we look at a school building as having a life of 40 or 50 years, by the 35th year they need some major improvements."

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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