Panel suggests cutting frills in new schools

Commission reports on study of rising construction costs

`A catalyst for change'

Complex designs, lack of oversight blamed for problem

October 31, 2002|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

A commission studying runaway school construction costs in Anne Arundel County made a series of recommendations yesterday that it said would save the county enough money to build two or three extra schools over the next five years.

The group found that there has not been a consistent effort to ensure that schools are built in an economical fashion; that overly complex designs for new schools were driving up costs; and that red tape and slow payments were discouraging some contractors who might offer lower bids.

In the report to County Executive Janet S. Owens, who formed the commission, members also recommended abiding by simple, no-frills designs and appointing an advisory group of industry professionals to assist in keeping costs low.

"I think the report is going to serve as a catalyst for change," said Mark Moran, the school system's supervisor of capital projects.

Edward St. John, a businessman who led the commission, praised Moran and Superintendent Eric J. Smith for already taking the commission's advice to heart.

St. John previously criticized the design of Davidsonville Elementary School, which opened to pupils this fall and was officially dedicated Tuesday.

At Davidsonville, an ornate front entrance, curved glass walls on the interior and a monumental stairway added to the cost. St. John also blasted a glass-and-brick "lighthouse" structure that juts out from the library into the hallway, creating a reading nook for children.

Owens, who attended the dedication ceremony, said the design was nice, but "it may be the last reading nook of that kind in Anne Arundel County."

Owens is running for re-election against Republican Phillip D. Bissett, a former state delegate who has criticized her record on education issues.

The commission compared construction costs at Glendale Elementary School, which is similar to Davidsonville, and costs at the School of the Incarnation, a new Catholic school in Gambrills.

The slightly larger public school cost nearly $3 million more.

The construction cost per square foot was $117, compared with $97 at the private school.

The report said new school designs should be rectangular or cubical in form, with the administrative offices, cafeteria and gym at the center. Straight walls are cheaper than those with angles or indentations, commission members said.

School officials have been working with the commission since July and have redesigned three elementary schools and a middle school using cost-saving tactics.

At Marley Middle School, on which construction will begin this summer, officials expect to save nearly $3 million by cutting the number of bathrooms in half, scratching a computer lab and eliminating classroom space.

Outside, fewer trees and bushes will be planted.

School officials say the schools won't be giving up much with the simpler designs, and the money saved will be better spent elsewhere. "We've done a lot, without affecting the quality or the instructional programs," Moran said.

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