Francis Scott Key and 'smart growth' State should fund school renovation, in line with anti-sprawl initiatives.

December 18, 1996

THERE'S A VOTE for false economy in the state school construction agency's curious decision to slash funding for major renovation of Francis Scott Key High School near Uniontown.

That cost-cutting judgment would seriously jeopardize careful plans for a phased, two-year construction that will allow continuing use of the school building as work proceeds.

It sends contradictory signals from a state adminstration that champions renovation over new construction as a more efficient use of resources. And from a governor who advocates "smart growth" in developed areas, as opposed to wasteful sprawl development.

After approving the Carroll project a year ago, the state Interagency Committee on School Construction this month recommended funding only $1 million of the $5.8 million first-year request. The reason is not because of planning flaws, but because of a shortage of money in the state construction fund.

Put another way, the committee is trying to spread the state dollars thinner to accommodate more demands from 23 counties and Baltimore City. Gov. Parris N. Glendening's outspoken advocacy of increased school funding has encouraged more requests statewide, projects worth nearly three times the $125 million available this next year.

Carroll County needs the full, previously approved state funding up front to proceed with renovating its oldest high school.

If the state dribbles out the money over the years, the county can't efficiently complete the project with minimum disruption to classes. Carroll has already agreed to pay two-thirds of the cost, because of design preferences; the state typically pays 65 percent of costs.

Ironically, Carroll's recent decisions to pay for school construction projects in advance, seeking state reimbursement in later years rather than delaying needed buildings, may have backfired this time. The state committee may be expecting Carroll to do the same with Key High.

County officials are appealing for the committee to reconsider, and can make a final pitch to the state Board of Public Works in the spring. We expect reason will finally prevail. Full funding in this instance is required, lest the carefully staged project fall apart.

Pub Date: 12/18/96

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