School plans get $3 million in state funds

North Carroll Middle, Mount Airy projects

`It's all about partnerships'

County gets $8.5 million in year for construction

Carroll County

May 09, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

The state Board of Public Works awarded Carroll County $3 million yesterday in additional school construction money - including $2.5 million toward renovating 46-year-old North Carroll Middle School - and planning approval for a second Mount Airy elementary school.

The board's action raised to $8.5 million the total amount of school construction money given to Carroll this year, and brought cheers from parents who had lobbied hard for projects in their separate corners of the county.

"I keep thinking back to that town hall meeting at Mount Airy Middle School in November 1998 when we were told by the powers that be that Mount Airy student enrollments were projected to decline and there certainly would never be a need for additional school capacity in Mount Airy," said Michele Johnson, founder of Mount Airy Citizens for Tomorrow, which pushed for the new elementary school.

"A lot of hard work from a lot of citizens in this community paid off."

The $13.2 million elementary school is scheduled to open in August 2005.

Carmela Guthart, who has led the charge for North Carroll Middle School's $17.4 million renovation, was similarly exuberant, having pursued county school officials nearly all day for news of the board's action.

"I am thrilled to death," said Guthart, who has spoken at a dozen school board meetings, organized student letter-writing campaigns to state officials and helped middle schoolers with a petition they delivered to the county commissioners.

"The eighth of May will never have the same meaning again for me."

In addition to the money for North Carroll Middle, the allocation yesterday included $472,000 to renovate the well, septic and electrical systems at 73-year-old Charles Carroll Elementary in Silver Run.

Although the North Carroll renovation project has been on the books for 25 years, it had never been funded.

The school's heating and air-conditioning systems have become unreliable, the septic system has failed and hallway puddles have become a common occurrence after heavy rains.

The state funding - roughly one-third of the state's $7.8 million share of the project's cost - and the promise of additional money is enough to start preparing for the renovations, school officials said.

`Definitely pleased'

"This is certainly a down payment," school board President Susan W. Krebs said. "It's not like this money is a gift because all of these projects fit the state's criteria for funding, but given the economic situation our state is in, we're definitely pleased we got them funded."

The state had approved $3.5 million for Winters Mill High School, which will open in August outside Westminster; about $1.4 million in reimbursement for Cranberry Station Elementary, which opened in 1999 next to the site for Winters Mill; and $624,000 for heating and air conditioning for Westminster Elementary.

The repayment for the two Westminster schools - built with county tax dollars - frees money for other projects, Krebs said, including a heating and air-conditioning system for Sykesville Middle that was not approved yesterday.

Get the money

"That's why it doesn't matter exactly where you get the money, just so you get the money," Krebs said. "It goes back into the kitty, and we can move it around where we need it."

The $156.5 million allocated statewide yesterday increases the state's bricks-and-mortar spending on education under Gov. Parris N. Glendening to $1.62 billion.

"We have met or exceeded our commitment to providing students with state-of-the-art classrooms in which to learn and prepare for the knowledge-based economy," the governor said in a news release.

The biggest winners in yesterday's allocations were counties in the Washington suburbs and Southern Maryland.

Montgomery, the state's most-populous county, finished first with $9.9 million and a total of $18 million, and fast-growing Calvert County was second with $5.9 million and $10.9 million.

Baltimore County received $12.5 million this year; Baltimore City received $13.8 million; Anne Arundel, $8.8 million; Harford, $6.2 million; and Howard, $12.4 million.

Schaefer complains

Glendening had little chance to exult at the board meeting, where Comptroller William Donald Schaefer complained bitterly that the governor hadn't consulted with him about his choices.

Quizzing Yale Stenzler, executive director of the state's public school construction program, Schaefer suggested that the governor had put school projects on his list that did not meet the state's criteria.

Stenzler said all of Glendening's choices qualified, but the comptroller was not mollified.

"The governor isn't the world," Schaefer fumed. "He thinks he's God, I know that."

But for Carroll County's Krebs, Guthart and Johnson, yesterday's funding victory was about proving wrong county residents who think activism won't make a difference.

"It's all about partnerships and building bridges," Johnson said. "We knew we'd need this school in Mount Airy and we wouldn't take no for an answer.

"Citizen involvement makes a difference and this should serve as a message to every citizen of this county that if you've got something on your mind, do it, because citizens can make a difference."

Sun staff writer Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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