$127 million sought for county schools Money targeted for renovations

December 23, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County school officials proposed yesterday spending $127.7 million for school construction next year to help renovate and repair the system's aging buildings.

The proposal, made last night to the school board, includes a request for the county to spend $95.7 million and comes days after county officials learned that the state is likely to provide at least $17.8 million for construction.

If approved by the board next month, the capital budget plan would shift the district's construction priorities from building new schools to fixing up older ones -- largely because student enrollment is expected to level off. The 106,300-student school system is projected to grow by fewer than 2,000 students in the next decade after increasing by almost 25,000 students in the last 10 years.

Many of the county's schools -- which are on average the second-oldest in Maryland -- are desperately in need of major repairs. A consultant has estimated that the district needs to spend $213 million in the next few years to repair its 100 elementary schools.

All but $2.6 million of the $127.7 million would go to maintenance, roof repairs and renovations.

"The focus of the 2000 and 2001 budgets really is to address the elementary schools," said Valerie A. Roddy, a school system senior fiscal analyst.

The school system's request for county capital budget funding occurred soon after county school officials were told that the state already has approved almost half of their request for state construction money.

County and school officials have asked for $36.7 million in state ,, school construction money, and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger has said that Gov. Parris N. Glendening promised before last month's election that the county would receive at least $30 million.

The state Interagency Committee on School Construction has recommended that Baltimore County receive $17.8 million next year. Glendening won't divide up much of the state school construction money until after the state legislature concludes its session in the spring.

The $17.8 million approved by the state would help pay for projects at 26 county elementary and middle schools -- including $1.6 million to renovate 90-year-old Randallstown Elementary School. The total cost of the Randallstown project is $6.6 million.

Overall, the proposed capital budget would allow for major maintenance at 42 of the county's oldest elementary schools and replace roofs at 10 more schools.

School officials said they have met Ruppersberger and believe their request to the county is realistic.

For the 2000-2001 school year, officials tentatively plan to continue the trend of repairing schools, with virtually all of that year's budget -- $136.7 million -- going for renovations.

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.

In addition to the $213 million repair estimate for elementary schools, county educators are expecting huge costs to fix the 60 middle and high schools. The outside engineering firm's report on those buildings is expected to be released in late January or early February, said chief engineer Gene Neff.

Pub Date: 12/23/98

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