N. Carroll school funding restored

Commissioners approve construction manager money for renovations

Carroll County

July 19, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Faced with the prospect of delaying a $20.2 million renovation of North Carroll Middle School by a year, the commissioners voted yesterday afternoon to restore money for the services of a construction management firm that school officials say is needed to oversee the project.

"It's obvious that we have a project that needs to happen," Commissioner Donald I. Dell said at a meeting yesterday between the county commissioners and members of the school board. "There's work already put in on it."

The three commissioners agreed to return $947,240 that they had subtracted from the project's budget. Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier reluctantly voted in favor of returning the money, saying, "I'll say aye so we don't hold up the project, but that's this project only."

The county commissioners trimmed nearly $3.3 million that the school board had requested to pay for a construction management company to oversee several major school projects, including the North Carroll Middle renovation, from the county's construction budget this spring.

Defending the cuts, county officials have said that the school system turned to the expertise of construction managers when it did not have qualified staff in its construction department. Now that it does, the services of construction management companies have become redundant and are a waste of money, officials assert.

School officials contend that building schools with construction managers costs less or about the same as hiring a general contractor for the same work. The difference, they say, is that projects done with construction management firms are more consistently completed on time and under budget.

"There are a lot of advantages to using construction manager services over the general contractor approach," Superintendent Charles I. Ecker told the commissioners yesterday.

"We think there's a savings with construction managers, but it's difficult to tell. You really can't tell until you get the final cost of a project and you can't build the same project on both methods. So we're saying it's cost neutral."

Modernization of the 46-year-old North Carroll Middle School - where the septic system has failed, the heating system is unpredictable and the roof leaks - was among the projects hit by the commissioners' budget cuts.

The project is scheduled to be bid in September, with work on the building to be completed in November 2004.

Without the money for a construction manager, school construction staff would have to rework designs, schedules and planning for the project and add money to the budget for services that the oversight company would have done school system staff cannot handle, said Raymond Prokop, the school system's facilities direction.

The project would likely be delayed by at least a year and state funding might be jeopardized, he added.

This spring, the commissioners also deducted by unanimous vote about $1.3 million from the budget for a new South Carroll-area middle school; $615,200 from a new elementary school in Mount Airy; and $450,400 from a renovation of Freedom Elementary.

The commissioners and school board members will meet next month to resolve these budget cuts.

Although relations between the two boards have been markedly more polite and cooperative since Ecker's arrival two years ago, the discussion yesterday deteriorated into the kind of bickering that formerly characterized their public interactions.

Referring to the 43-page memo and packet of information that school officials sent in May to the commissioners explaining the board's preference for using construction management firms, school board President Susan W. Krebs asked the commissioners for the data they used to decide against using the oversight companies.

When Frazier replied that county staff could compile information for the school board, C. Scott Stone shot back, "So you based your decision on data that doesn't exist?"

"It's pretty much common sense, I think," Frazier told him.

"So now we've moved away from data to basing decisions on common sense?" Stone asked.

Krebs tried to defuse the tense moment, explaining that school officials had provided "voluminous data" to support their decision and wanted to know what influenced the commissioners' decision to cut the money.

"There's a difference between saying something," Krebs said, "and proving it with good hard data to back that up."

After Frazier acknowledged she had not had time to look over the packet sent May 29, the school board members criticized the commissioners for not reading material that is provided to them.

"You want to tackle what we have to read?" Dell responded.

"We have a lot to read, too," Krebs said. "But it's our responsibility to come to meetings prepared."

The commissioners, the five-member school board and their staffs will meet at 9 a.m. Aug. 28 in the board meeting room of the school system's administrative offices on North Court Street.

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