A draft of the Howard County school system's capital budget request, presented to the Board of Education yesterday, shows the system is likely to need more than $120 million next year in state and county construction funds.
"It's mostly based on enrollment growth and the need to renovate and maintain our older buildings," said the system's chief business officer, Bruce Venter, who told board members that the request is a work in progress. The final request, he said, will be "certainly over $100 million, no question about it."
The request will be the largest ever by the school system, which last year asked for $87.9 million and received $62 million.
The costliest projects include $35.6 million to start construction of a high school the county is hoping to open in 2005; $20.5 million for an elementary school scheduled to open in 2006; and $10.1 million to build a modern facility for Cedar Lane, a school for the severely disabled.
Yesterday's collaborative capital budget work session was the first for school board members, who usually do not see the request until the superintendent officially presents his recommendation to them, which he will do this year on Sept. 19.
The briefing allowed members to present their views and help direct the school system staff toward considering other options.
"It is good sometimes to be on the same page as the board," Venter said.
The request includes recommendations that the school system push back construction of two other elementary schools needed to relieve crowding. Both were previously scheduled for completion in 2006.
If the proposal is accepted, a school in the northeast county will not open until 2007, and one in the north will not be ready until 2008.
"My personal feeling is that we're making a mistake if we try to delay both these schools," said board member Courtney Watson, who worried that school officials were not requesting those projects because of a likely shortage of funds. "It's our job to ask for the schools when we need them."
Other recommendations in the request draft include:
Adding modular units to schools for full-day kindergarten, which the state has required by 2007, rather than permanent additions.
Considering modernization needs at older schools rather than only renovation requirements.
Replacing Bushy Park Elementary School with a new building on a different site. The current site has septic system problems that Venter said a planned renovation cannot cure.
Sandra H. French, the school board chairman, said the system might want to consider combining Lisbon elementary with Bushy Park if rebuilding is necessary. Venter said he had not thought of that.
Watson suggested that the board add funding in the long-term capital improvement plan for schools the county knows it is likely to need.
"We continually find ourselves in a position of requesting schools three years before we need them," Watson said, adding that the step might help them plan earlier.
Superintendent John R. O'Rourke called the proposal "a whole new concept, and I think it's a good one."
The board will review the budget request when O'Rourke hands it over in three weeks and will deliver the final version in October to the county executive, who has a committee researching ways to fund it.