Schools plan could prove too ambitious

Board of Education list of needs totals nearly $100 million

`Absolutely unaffordable'

Official reaction to program could force amendments

October 07, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Carroll County will be hard-pressed to pay for the nearly $100 million worth of school construction projects approved last week by the school board, county budget officials said.

"Under current revenue assumptions, it's absolutely unaffordable," county budget bureau chief Ted Zaleski said in an interview.

Most of the construction projects planned through fiscal year 2006 could be accomplished by selling enough bonds, Zaleski said. "But in doing that, we'd have to shut down school construction after that for five to 10 years. And there are just too many variables to do that."

So while the county theoretically might be able to afford all the projects in the first few years of the plan, the budget staff might not recommend that the commissioners try it, Zaleski said, because "we also have to be concerned about the operating budget."

The Board of Education unanimously approved a six-year construction plan and capital budget that includes a new elementary school, a new middle school and additions at the three high schools in fast-growing South Carroll and Mount Airy. Historically, the documents have been extremely fluid - with projects being accelerated, delayed or bumped from the plan entirely as enrollment projections change and budgets shrink.

The biggest items on the plan approved last week include completion of the $35 million Winters Mill High School, which is under construction outside Westminster and expected to open in August; a $26.2 million middle school to be opened in the South Carroll area in 2006; and a $19.3 million modernization of 45-year-old North Carroll Middle, to be completed in 2004.

The board also gave the nod to new proposals for career and technology programs. Interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker scaled back plans to spend $8 million to $9 million at once to renovate the Career and Technology Center at South Carroll High and to remodel vacated classrooms at Westminster High for an expansion of its career and technology programs.

Revised proposals

Instead, plans call for moving career and technology programs - especially those without heavy equipment - into the emptied space at Westminster High by August 2004, at a cost of at least $400,000 over two years.

The board also wants to spend about $1 million in 2005 to upgrade equipment at the Career and Technology Center in Westminster. Renovation of South Carroll's Career and Technology Center would be delayed until 2008, when a modernization and expansion of South Carroll's main building and fine-arts facility, in addition to the Career and Technology Center, will be completed.

Additions to Liberty High and to Century High, which opened in August, are scheduled for January 2006 and January 2007, respectively.

Variety of projects

Other projects include:

A $5.1 million building for the Gateway alternative school, expected to open in August 2003.

A $10.8 million elementary school to relieve crowding in the South Carroll-Mount Airy area to open August 2004.

A $1 million systemic renovation next year of Charles Carroll Elementary to correct health and safety problems at the county's smallest and oldest school.

A modernization of 39-year-old William Winchester Elementary and 46-year-old Freedom Elementary, tentatively scheduled for completion in 2010, and a modernization of 72-year-old Charles Carroll Elementary, tentatively scheduled to begin in 2010.

Dozens of smaller roof, pavement, track refurbishment, ventilation and air-conditioning projects.

Ecker acknowledged that the county's assessment of funding availability will force him and the school board to reorganize priorities.

"We'll have to see how much money they want to give us and what we can do," he said in an interview. "I'm concerned about the ability of the county to fund all of our needs. We've put some of the modernizations way out in the program ... and a lot of the things we've put off should be done pretty soon. But we can't do everything."

`Not a wish list'

To Ecker and members of the school board, this year's capital budget request and construction plan represent a realistic portrayal of projects needed for the 28,000-student school system.

"I really think it represents a list of the most-pressing needs," he said. "It's really not a wish list."

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