School board OKs capital budget plan

Funds are requested for new building and improvements

Six-year total: $163 million

Plan calls for county officials to contribute $67 million more

August 25, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County school board rubber-stamped last night a $163 million spending proposal to build new schools and refurbish older ones over the next six years.

The new capital improvement budget calls for the county to contribute $67 million in additional money -- and for the state to add $55 million -- to pay for everything from a second high school in Westminster to roofing and wiring repairs at existing schools through 2006.

The budget must be submitted Sept. 1 to the county commissioners, who will give final approval in May.

About $41 million in the proposed budget has already been received from the state and county for projects already underway, such as the new Century High School in South Carroll.

Other work, however, hinges on county and state approval. And the school system has increased some cost estimates, raising questions about how much money local governments will contribute.

Among other projects in the budget considered last night:

$4.5 million for a new Gateway High School. The alternative school was to be part of the new Westminster High School, but school administrators decided this year to separate the projects, requiring new funding to build Gateway.

$6 million for a South Carroll High School fine arts addition.

$11.4 million for a North Carroll Middle School renovation. $4.6 million for an upgraded South Carroll area career and technology center.

$5.1 million for air conditioning improvements.

$1.3 million for improvements in technology.

The proposal passed last night by a 4-1 vote. Board member Susan Krebs, who said the school system was spending too much to build a high school near Cranberry Station Elementary School, voted against it. She offered an amendment that would have forced the system to choose another site, but the amendment was not seconded.

The county's second high school in Westminster is scheduled to open in 2002. A large portion of the proposed budget -- $38.7 million -- is a revised estimate of what it will cost to build the school. The figure is $9 million more than the school system estimated two years ago.

Gary W. Bauer, board president, noted that generally the revised estimate reflects inflation and higher construction costs in a bullish economy. For example, a state formula for reporting construction costs jumped by more than $10 per square foot since last year.

"There is no way around it," Bauer said. "Even though the numbers are higher, we need these schools."

But the school's higher price tag did not go up only because general construction costs rose. A feasibility study completed two months ago on the Cranberry site found it would cost an additional $5.6 million for excavation and rock removal.

County and school officials are considering an alternative site for the high school that could lower the cost. Bauer said that a new site must be chosen by Sept. 30 for the school to open on time. Otherwise, the opening would likely be delayed by a year, until 2003, Bauer said.

Krebs complained that since the extra costs had not been discovered earlier, that made it difficult to find another location sooner. "It's like 11: 59 and they are finding this stuff out," she said. "This school needs to be built on time."

The board also discussed an anonymous letter received last week -- complaining of low employee morale in the school system -- that was signed by "building administrators, secretaries, and central office."

At a closed meeting before the budget session, the board decided to drop the matter and not investigate the letter further, in accordance with a policy that unsigned letters be disregarded.

Krebs yesterday reiterated that the letter echoed sentiments she has heard from all over the school system. She added, however, that she has not heard negative feedback about Dottie Mangle, an assistant superintendent for instruction who was criticized in the letter.

The school system submits its capital budget to the state on Oct. 14. The state comes back with its offer for capital funding in December. Schools can then appeal for more money if they do not receive what they requested.

Al Eilbacher, school facilities planner, said he is tabulating how much of the county's $67-million share over six years will be requested in the upcoming year. The school system is asking the state for $14.4 million of their total contribution in 2000-2001.

Pub Date: 8/25/99

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