So why must Anne Arundel County spend $14.4 million to build a new Davidsonville Elementary School, when other counties are building schools for about half the price?
Some of the extra cost is in the site.
Building the 600-student school at Central Avenue and Queen Anne Bridge Road would require major road improvements to allow separate bus and car lanes as well as a traffic signal. Total cost: $200,000.
Because public water is not available, the builder would have to dig a well and install water treatment, septic and underground sprinkler systems. Total cost: $275,000.
And because the proposed site -- next to the existing building -- is smaller than other school sites, builders can't work from prototype blueprints. That means the school system would have to pay architects and engineers nearly $800,000 to design a school.
School planners also have added in an annual 5 percent inflation factor through 2000, pushing up the school's price tag even more. If built today, the school would cost $12 million.
"This whole plan came about because it is meant to keep the kids in school and not bus them somewhere else while the new school is being built," complained County Executive John G. Gary. "And that's hunky-dory, but not at $4 million extra." The average cost of a new school in Anne Arundel is $10 million.
There is no argument that the school -- the most expensive elementary school to be built in the county -- is sorely needed. The gripe is over the cost, which is almost double what other counties are spending on similar-size elementary schools.
Howard County has spent about $7 million to build an elementary school. A 592-seat elementary school in Baltimore County that is scheduled to open in 2001, around the same time as Davidsonville, is expected to cost about $8 million.
Gary, a fiscal conservative, has repeatedly complained about the cost of building schools in Anne Arundel.
"It's hard to teach an old dog new tricks," Gary said of the school board. "I hate to be the one who is constantly pounding on them, but they are really busting my chops over this."
Since Gary threatened to try to take control of the school construction program three years ago, then settled the dispute by forming a joint county and school board construction committee, he has had some success convincing people to spend less on schools.
"I think they are finally learning that I mean business about this," he said. "I think we have finally struck an accord" on spending.
Gary has asked board members to consider other sites for the school, and at least some seem willing.
"I think we can do a better job of controlling the cost of building schools," said school board member Michael McNelly. "We are looking at things much more critically than any of the other boards have done in the past."
One site Gary has asked them to consider is the former Nike missile base on Queen Anne Bridge Road south of Central Avenue near the county police academy.
While there would be some additional development costs, Gary said, they would not approach $4 million. And builders could use the plans that were used for Jacobsville Elementary, which is under construction in Pasadena.
"What we should be doing is paying the architect's fee once for the prototype, and then modify it each time we have to build a school," Gary said.
School officials acknowledge that many of the extra costs of building Davidsonville Elementary are related to the site. But they also note that all school districts build schools with different features.
Meade Heights Elementary, which was completed in September for about $10 million, was built with the same plans as the new Park and Solley elementaries.
They are modern schools with windows that allow natural light to stream in from walls and ceilings. There is a computer lab, nTC state-of-the-art science lab, and a television and VCR in every classroom.
Jacobsville Elementary was designed after Meade Heights and also cost about $10 million.
"But comparing Jacobsville to Davidsonville is like comparing apples to oranges," said Rodell Phaire, director of school planning and construction. The Davidsonville site is unique, he said, and school planners also added the annual inflation cost to their estimates.
"The school has to last about 80 years," he said. "And we are selecting procedures that are efficient and easy to maintain. These decisions are based on the long haul."
Pub Date: 4/05/98