Ehrlich budget has millions for county projects

Nearly $10 million for HCC arts building

Assembly approval needed

Two parks, three schools also in line for funding

Howard County

January 26, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Times may be tight, but Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s first capital budget includes nearly $10 million for a new Howard Community College performing arts building and millions more for development of two Howard County parks and three local school projects.

"We were hoping. We really have a major shortage," said a grateful college vice president, Lynn Coleman, who said dance students now worry about hitting their heads on the ceiling of a makeshift practice area.

Enrollment in drama and film arts courses has increased more than 100 percent in eight years, and a new, two-story, 78,000-square-foot building would enable students to use first-rate facilities instead of inadequate, converted spaces.

The building would attach to the Smith Theatre, which also would get a new, larger lobby, Coleman said.

Ehrlich included $9.6 million for a 50 percent share of a new visual and performing arts building at HCC, as well as $815,000 for new campus outdoor lighting and a new competition-sized running track.

Coleman said the track is being torn up for construction of soccer fields, but it was too small anyway. "A lot of our track events have to be held at other places."

The state money must be matched with local funds, but Coleman said the college has agreed to raise 25 percent and the Howard County government will pay the rest.

Gary Arthur, the county's director of recreation and parks, was happy, too, about getting $1.7 million in state Program Open Space money Ehrlich provided to help pay for development of Western Regional Park in Glenwood and Meadowbrook Community Park along U.S. 29, near Route 100.

Work began on the two parks in October. The state money will become available July 1 if the General Assembly approves, but the parks, which are expected to cost a total of $19.5 million, will take several years to complete.

By late next year, 10 new playing fields should be available at the 160-acre Western Regional Park, and up to seven fields should be ready at the 77-acre Meadowbrook in Ellicott City.

"That's better than last year," Arthur said about the state budget amount.

With the uncertainty about state finances, Arthur said, getting the money was not assured and "everything would have been put on hold" without it.

"We didn't know how he was going to go about balancing the budget," Arthur said of Ehrlich.

Howard Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat who heads the county's House delegation, said the current budget crisis may sound dire, "but it's nowhere near as bad as it was in the 1991-'92 budget year."

"Next year, unless the economy turns around, is going to be much more difficult," he said, because the easy cuts will be exhausted by then.

The state budget also includes about $3.2 million in previously approved funding for three school projects - $2.1 million for renovations at West Friendship Elementary, $572,000 to help complete the new Bellows Spring Elementary by late August and $490,000 to reimburse the county for a 100-seat addition at Forest Ridge Elementary completed two years ago.

The largest amount coming to Howard County is for a place most residents think little about - Patuxent Institution in Jessup, a maximum-security state prison that specializes in trying to rehabilitate prisoners - young convicts deemed good prospects for change and older criminals who need psychiatric help.

Ehrlich wants to spend $7.4 million to install a new sprinkler system and $4 million more to add a high-security outer fence devices for detecting and preventing escapes, according to Leonard A. Sipes Jr., a spokesman for the state prison system.

Sipes said there was not an extraordinary problem with escapes from the Patuxent facility. Security is being reinforced at all state prisons, he noted.

Smaller amounts were included in the budget to continue work on stabilizing the banks of Wilde Lake's feeder streams ($125,000), to rebuild a storm-water control pond in David Force Park ($85,000) and $10,000 for waterway improvements.

James M. Irvin, the county's public works director, has said more than 300 storm-water ponds in the county need rebuilding, but the one at David Force Park is county-owned and easier to start with.

The work would change the pond to retain the water long enough for vegetation to grow, helping to naturally filter out phosphorus and nitrogen pollutants.

A separate chamber will be installed for filtering sediment.

"They were originally designed to be a pit to collect storm water, and then let it trickle out slowly," Irvin said, explaining that the newer concept is to trap the water and its impurities longer, for more thorough cleansing.

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