Slated funds rescue plans for 3 schools

Robey pledges money for repairs, alternative facility

`They need to be done'

Twelfth high school not fiscally possible until mid-2003

April 29, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Robey administration's promise of more money next year has rescued two long-awaited school renovations and a new Alternative Learning Center in Howard County, despite high construction costs that boosted the collective bill more than $6 million over budget.

To save the renovation projects and get them rolling this summer, County Council Chairman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, persuaded County Executive James N. Robey to pledge enough new money to finish the jobs at Atholton Elementary School and Dasher Green Elementary/Owen Brown Middle school in Columbia.

"I support the position that they need to be done," Robey said of the renovations, which some see as vital to the county's effort to keep older neighborhoods attractive.

He expects to have more capital budget flexibility next year, because spending for several large projects -- a new community college building, the new Reservoir High School and a new emergency communications system -- will end during the fiscal year starting July 1.

But funding for construction of a 12th high school won't come until the budget year starting July 1, 2003.

More important to parents and teachers at the schools due renovations is that Robey's promise means work can begin this summer.

"It brings tears to my eyes," said Mary Ann Wilson, a parent who attended a meeting Wednesday night about the renovations at Owen Brown Middle School. Wilson has a child at the renovated Jeffers Hill Elementary who will attend Owen Brown Middle.

"We choose to live here. We like this community," Wilson said. The renovations at Jeffers Hill "make a big difference in how everyone feels about the school."

At another meeting at Atholton Elementary, reactions were similar.

"You've taken us from total frustration to feeling like we have some hope, and we really appreciate it," 23-year Atholton teacher Fran Razmus told Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, several school board members and Guzzone, who represents the area, at a recent meeting.

On the same team

"We're thrilled that everyone seems to be on our team," said Becky Fitchett, the school's Parent Teacher Association president.

County officials became alarmed this month when bids for the projects came in so far over budget that the Atholton project was delayed until next year.

The bidding for the Atholton job was $1.2 million over, while the bidding for the Dasher Green/Owen Brown renovations was double the $3.3 million budgeted.

Also, the bidding for an Alternative Learning Center behind Board of Education headquarters on Route 108 came in $2 million over the $8.3 million budgeted for the job.

Revising formulas

The extra money for that project, needed to replace the old Gateway School building in Clarksville for up to 250 troubled children, will come from revising the multiyear funding formulas for the new northeast elementary and western middle schools, officials said.

The plan for the elementary school renovations calls for spending all the money allocated for the projects this summer, and then adding money next year to complete both jobs.

At Atholton, that means renovating classrooms on the second floor of the building, then the cafeteria and gym on the first floor.

Work schedule

Howard usually does renovations during summer vacation, but Cousin said work could stretch into the school year because of the bidding delays.

Tom Kierzkowski, school facilities director, told the Atholton parents and faculty that he will advertise for bids in September on work for summer 2002 and hopes to find slightly lower costs.

Still, he said, "This project is going to be a very tough project to bring to completion" because of the delays and the high costs.

Key improvements

June Cofield, an Owen Brown Middle School parent who also served on the county's school equity committee, said the improvements at her daughter's school are "very important," especially for providing high-tech wiring to bring the school up to date for computers -- a problem similar to Atholton's.

The extra effort by Guzzone and Robey have impressed parents, they said.

"I'm hoping this starts to mean folks are starting to realize the difference between these older schools and newer ones," Cofield said, referring to the equity study.

Computer gap

The lack of proper wiring for computers, she said, "puts [Owen Brown pupils] behind their peers across the county."

Cousin said work would begin on the Owen Brown side of the building this summer, adding that the renovations will take three summers to complete.

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