Klocko seeks project delay Brooklyn Park school work should await study results, he says

July 05, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

County Councilman John J. Klocko III is fighting what appears to be a losing battle against transforming the old Brooklyn Park High School into a middle school. Aligned against him are the county administration, fellow council members and state legislators.

Yet the Republican councilman from Crofton says he will argue until he is "blue in the face" that the project should be delayed while school officials study middle and high school needs throughout the county.

The study, approved by the Board of Education, will develop "cost saving measures and maximize the use of available instructional space" for middle and high schools, according to school documents. But plans for the study specifically forbid changes to projects already past the design stage. The former high school is the only school that fits that description, a situation Klocko calls "absurd."

"If you do that, why do the comprehensive study?" asked Klocko, who began his fight against the project during council budget deliberations in May. "I will argue until I'm blue in the face that you don't give the board money to be incomplete."

But school system officials, who need council approval to spend $335,000 on the study from a contingency account, say the middle school project has broad support and doesn't need to be included.

And Klocko's objections may be moot.

County Executive John G. Gary is to inform the board this week that money for the schools study is available, meaning the board can meet its Wednesday deadline for awarding a contract, said Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman.

And as of July 1, the beginning of the fiscal year, school officials have access to more than $8 million in county and state funds to begin major renovations. In May, the council placed another $5 million originally allocated for the project into the contingency account with the money for the study. The school board will have to request that money as well.

The $32 million renovation project would turn the former high school, built in 1954, into a middle school, community center and arts center. Some work has been done on the arts center, but major renovations, including asbestos removal, are to begin later this year. The remaining $19 million will be appropriated as the project proceeds.

The middle school could open by the 2001 school year.

Yet predictions of dwindling attendance at the new middle school and at Lindale-Brooklyn Park Middle School in Linthicum, which Brooklyn Park students attend, show that the project should at least be studied, Klocko said.

Neither the new middle school nor Lindale will be operating at capacity in 2001, according to school estimates.

The new Brooklyn Park Middle School will have a capacity of 917, but only 542 sixth- , seventh- and eighth-graders will be enrolled that year. And the numbers are expected to drop by 2007.

Lindale, with a capacity of 1,568, will have an estimated 1,094 sixth- , seventh- and eighth-graders in the 2001-2002 school year.

But project defenders say those numbers aren't the whole story.

"It doesn't matter," said Ritter. "The county executive and this administration are clearly committed to the North County Equity project, regardless of capacity or enrollment issues."

The North County Equity Project, of which the Brooklyn Park renovation is a major component, will ensure that all sixth- through eighth-graders in North County attend middle school. North County sixth-graders now attend elementary school.

"Mr. Klocko doesn't get the point," said Del. Joan Cadden, a Brooklyn Park Democrat who pushed to get nearly $5 million in state funding for the project this year. The issue is not capacity, she said. "No one wants 1,500 kids in one middle school."

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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