Balto. County school repairs before board Renovations are part of $77 million capital budget for next year

Wednesday vote planned

Randallstown parents also seek to replace 90-year-old structure

September 21, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Two weeks after receiving a $213 million, three-year repair bill for its elementary schools, the Baltimore County school board faces tough budget choices this week that are sure to leave at least some communities unhappy.

The board is scheduled to vote Wednesday night on a $77.6 million capital budget plan for the 1999-2000 school year.

For every school for which the board decides to seek repair money, others will have to survive for one or two more years with antiquated plumbing, fickle heating and peeling paint.

In addition, several board members are seriously considering replacing 90-year-old Randallstown Elementary School instead of repairing it -- a move that would take away money that could have gone to repair other county schools.

"We are using something built at the beginning of the 20th century to produce a 21st century education," said board president Dunbar Brooks of the Randallstown school. "At some point, it doesn't make sense. It seems to me we are throwing good money after bad."

Yet a decision to build a school in Randallstown would be strongly opposed by county officials, who say that they are $25 million short of having enough money to fix all of the elementary schools.

While some of the budget plan will remain in flux until the spring, the key part of Wednesday's vote is the board's school construction request to the state.

The most recent capital budget plan proposed by school officials -- discussed Thursday night by board members in a 3 1/2 -hour work session -- seeks $35.5 million from the state, including almost $30 million for major maintenance at elementary schools.

The emphasis on school repairs in the capital budget comes as the school district is completing a $1 million survey of the condition of its 161 school buildings.

The analysis by a Philadelphia engineering company has found that the county's 101 elementary schools need $213 million in repairs over the next three years. The cost estimate from the Perks-Reutter Associates analysis of the county's 60 middle and high schools isn't expected to be complete until later this fall.

County officials say they hope to pay for the elementary school repairs over the next three years through a combination of state funds, the county's budget surplus and a bond referendum in the November election.

County budget plans

The county's budget plans are about $25 million to $30 million short of the amount needed for the repairs, but county officials hope that a strong economy will overcome the shortfall.

The budget plans assume that the school board will follow an unspoken agreement between county and school officials that few repairs be done other than those recommended by the facilities survey and that schools be fixed in order from oldest to newest. Elementary schools would be repaired first, followed by middle schools and then high schools.

That sequence is being questioned by several board members. They say that some middle and high schools are in such need of repairs that they ought to be fixed ahead of some newer elementary schools.

Randallstown elementary

Several school board members also are suggesting that an almost $4 million repair proposal for Randallstown falls short of what the 90-year-old Liberty Road building needs.

The repair plan includes upgrading the electrical system, fixing plumbing and replacing ceilings, windows and the heating system. County and school officials also are considering purchasing land adjacent to the school to create a safer school entrance and more parking.

But Randallstown parents have been campaigning for a replacement school to be built nearby -- and Thursday night several board members indicated that they are prepared to support such a plan.

"For $4 million in public money, are we getting a state-of-the-art school?" asked board member Phyllis E. Ettinger about the repair plan. "I can't convince myself that is the case. At some point, we have a responsibility to the children and the community to bite the bullet and say what has to be said."

The willingness of some board members to pursue a replacement building for Randallstown drew praise from parents.

"It looks like they're beginning to see things our way," said parent Letitia Johnson, who has two children at Randallstown. "They just have to find a way to pay for it."

Therein lies the difficult choice facing the school board. A new elementary would cost $8 million to $10 million, and the difference in costs between repairs and a new school would reduce the money available to repair other schools.

"Other needs wouldn't be addressed as quickly," said board member Michael P. Kennedy.

In addition, it is possible the state might not agree to contribute money to replace a building that an outside engineering firm says can be repaired, said George P. Poff Jr., assistant to the superintendent for governmental relations and law.

"It is a huge gamble," said board member Sanford V. Teplitzky.

If the board chooses to seek a new school for Randallstown instead of repairing the building, county officials say they would not support the move.

"We have a $213 million price without even looking at the middle schools and high schools," said Michael H. Davis, spokesman for Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "We don't have the funding even for that."

County and school officials also expect that the west side of the county will need another middle school within the next few years -- an additional construction expense that likely would further delay some repairs.

Meanwhile, board members Wednesday night will wrestle with what they can do for Stoneleigh Elementary School, an overcrowded 68-year-old building near Towson.

Parents are seeking an addition at the school.

Pub Date: 9/21/98

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