State adds $5 million in school aid

Bonus construction funding to be applied to renovation projects

`It's a great help'

County's '02 grant is its largest from Maryland in 15 years

May 08, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County will get $5 million more from the state in school construction aid next year than the $20 million expected - a 25 percent bonus that left county officials overjoyed.

"Jeez!" exclaimed Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, who oversees school construction projects. "This will help a great deal."

Superintendent John O' Rourke said the money can be applied to school renovation projects. "It's a great help."

Howard's grant, announced yesterday in Annapolis, is by far the largest amount the county has received in school construction money from the state in at least 15 years, Cousin said - larger than the $20.7 million received this year and the $16 million two years ago.

The governor's announcement yesterday involved division of the final $99 million of the total $295 to be distributed statewide for fiscal year 2002.

The governor's recommendations go to the Board of Public Works tomorrow, where approval is expected.

In the past four years, Howard County has received $75 million in state school construction money - more than double the $35.5 million allocated to the county during the previous four years.

County Executive James N. Robey and County Council Chairman Guy J. Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, credited Howard's team approach and emphasis on improving older schools for the extra state support.

"We lobbied the governor and it paid off. He recognized the need," Robey said.

"We clearly have a large area of the county that is older and needs some revitalization. That falls in with the governor's Smart Growth plan. My gosh, this is just a great day," Guzzone said.

To the $20 million Howard had expected from the state, the governor added $5 million to compensate the county for school projects built earlier without state assistance.

The county also got the nod yesterday for three projects totaling $5.6 million, including $1.3 million to help renovate Atholton High School, $700,000 to help with an addition/renovation at Clarksville Elementary and $3.6 million to help build a new western middle school - one of the few projects on a long list of additions, renovations and upgradings of older buildings. State assistance for those three projects had been anticipated but was not confirmed until yesterday.

Several renovations had recently caused concern in the county because bids came back far over the amounts budgeted.

Inflation recently pushed bids on three Howard school projects a combined $6.5 million over budget, and Howard officials have been scrambling to find ways to keep from delaying the work. The over-budget jobs involved renovations at several older schools and construction of a new Alternative Learning Center for the county's emotionally troubled secondary school students.

Renovations at Atholton Elementary and at the building shared by Dasher Green Elementary and Owen Brown Middle School are sensitive issues in the county, where officials are worried about keeping older neighborhoods attractive.

"I think it will help the Owen Brown renovation and the Howard High renovation as well. It will accelerate renovations in older schools," said Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat.

"I'm just very glad to have it because I know it will be put to good use," said school board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt, a former county teacher.

The money was also greeted warmly by parents who have campaigned hard for a 12th high school - partly by lobbying Gov. Parris N. Glendening to repay Howard the $8 million owed the county for schools built years ago without waiting for state help.

Howard has built 24 schools since 1988, and construction is now under way of a high school in Fulton. Yale Stenzler, director of the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction, which administers the funds, said $4.1 million of Howard's money is repayment for earlier county spending - money the county can now spend on any school project.

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