Arundel superintendent wrings $11.4 million out of 2 schools' plans

Decor, landscaping `a little more austere'

August 04, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

The lighthouse is out.

So are the ceramic tiles in the bathrooms and the curved block glass in the library and the carpet in the principal's office.

Anne Arundel schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith has simplified and scaled back plans for the new Marley Elementary School - and cut the cost from $19.2 million to $16.3 million.

He has made similar adjustments to the new Marley Middle School, cutting the cost from $41.4 million to $32.9 million - saving 20 percent.

Smith, in his first whirlwind month on the job, has focused his time on school construction. The results were apparent Friday, with the release of plans for those two new schools that show a total of $11.4 million in savings. The announcement comes as a citizens committee prepares a report on how to cut school construction costs.

"These schools are a little more austere," said Mark Moran, the school system's supervisor of capital projects. "I don't think we're doing anything that will impact the long-range durability of the buildings. We haven't stepped over that line yet. But we're closer."

In other words, the frill is gone.

At Marley Elementary School, perhaps the most visible change is the loss of the imitation lighthouse. In each of two recently completed county elementary schools - Davidsonville and Glendale - a large, colorful lighthouse filled one corner of the library.

The lighthouses have been repeatedly singled out by members of the county's Blue Ribbon Commission on School Construction as examples of the extravagance of new schools. Smith, it seems, got the message.

"It's history," Moran said. "You might as well go to Glendale and Davidsonville and take a picture, because it's history."

Moran said each lighthouse cost $12,000 but that it had become a cause celebre and had to go.

Smith also cut the size of Marley Elementary's gym and cut the room reserved for extended day care. Those two cuts saved 7,300 square feet and $500,000. The curved block glass wall is also gone, to be replaced by flat glass.

Big canopies at the side entrances of the school - which were to serve as play areas for kindergartners when it rains - also were cut. The kindergarten teachers say their kids stay inside when it's wet anyway.

At Marley Middle, the number of bathrooms has been cut in half. A computer lab was deleted. Classroom space for technical education was cut by 25 percent. The dance classroom was eliminated (although space was added to the auxiliary gym for dance). The kitchen in the cafeteria was cut by a third. The four science labs each lost 100 square feet.

And outside, fewer trees and bushes will be planted. Schools used to be built with two layers of landscaping - which the county code required - and then even more added on by the school system.

Now they'll just do what the county requires. "You'll see some trees and bushes," Moran said, "but it won't be as lush as it normally would be."

All the changes cut the size of the middle school by 7,120 square feet, down to 156,688, and saved $8.5 million.

Smith, who was off Friday, could not be reached for comment. But he has said in the past that some Anne Arundel schools seemed a little luxurious.

"Schools need to be functional and durable, and they do need to be places the community is proud of," Smith said in an interview with The Sun last month, "but they need to be short of grandeur."

County Executive Janet S. Owens, who formed the blue ribbon commission on construction in the spring, is pleased that Smith has been attending the commission meetings and moving quickly to save money, said her spokesman, Matt Diehl.

"Any money saved in school construction can go right back in the classroom, and then everyone in the county will benefit," Diehl said.

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