Schools seeking $62 million for repairs Older buildings need major work, survey shows

August 12, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Acknowledging that enrollment is beginning to level off and older buildings are in desperate need of repair, Baltimore County school officials proposed last night to devote almost all of the school system's capital budget for 1999-2000 to maintenance projects.

The proposed $74.2 million capital budget, which was presented to the school board, calls for $62 million to be spent on major maintenance and roof repairs in fiscal year 2000.

"We're over the hump" of new enrollment, Gene L. Neff, the school system's chief engineer, said in a brief interview after presenting the spending plan to the board.

While the school system's 105,000-student enrollment has increased by almost 25,000 students over the past 10 years, it is expected to remain relatively unchanged through 2007.

The only construction money for new schools included in the budget proposal is $2 million to begin planning for a new middle and high school in the Owings Mills New Town area -- though the school board still needs to decide what kind of school it wants to build there.

The capital plan, which needs to be approved by the school board next month, seeks $30 million from the state and $44.2 million from Baltimore County. The state money would approach the record $30.9 million given to the county schools this past spring for 1998-99 school construction.

If approved, the budget would mark a sharp contrast from the current year's $90.4 million capital budget, which includes dTC money for such projects as new elementary schools in Woodlawn and Owings Mills, and $50.8 million for major maintenance and roof repairs.

The shift in money for maintenance comes as county and school officials are recognizing a significant need to repair Baltimore County school buildings.

Last spring, school officials estimated that Baltimore County might need to spend as much as $400 million on its aging school buildings over the next few years.

As the behest of the County Council, the school system hired a Philadelphia company -- Perks-Reutter Associates -- to examine the condition of all of the district's 159 school buildings.

More than 80 percent of the system's schools were built before 1970, and, until recently, building maintenance was often ignored or cut in years of tight education budgets.

Preliminary results of the survey have indicated a widespread need for such work as boiler replacements, roof repairs, painting and the upgrading of electrical and plumbing systems.

The results of the survey as expected to be completed this fall, and school officials then will decide which schools receive money first based on the urgency of repairs.

Neff said he hopes to get at least a portion of the survey done before the school board votes on the capital budget at its Sept. 23 meeting.

The school board is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed capital budget Sept. 9 and discuss it at a work session Sept. 17. Both meetings will begin at 7 p.m. and be held in the school system's Educational Support Services Building.

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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