School construction funds doled out

Total exceeds last year's but falls short of requests

May 06, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Board of Public Works doled out yesterday the last of a $125.9 million pot of state funds for school construction and renovation, more than last year but a far cry from the hundreds of millions the state's 24 school systems say they need.

The money, which exceeded last year's allocation by $9.4 million, will pay or help pay for 106 projects statewide, including a new elementary school in Baltimore County and additions at seven Howard County schools.

The $50.4 million approved yesterday and the $75.5 million granted earlier amount to a third of the total requested. School systems had asked for a total this year of more than $387 million to pay for nearly 300 projects.

The amount is "far, far below the level that we need to be at to really address the facility needs of the state," said David Lever, executive director of the Interagency Committee on School Construction, which allocates the state funds recommended by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. A record $300.7 million was handed out in 2000, just before the economy slumped.

"The reality is that when the pie is so small, everybody suffers," said David S. Weaver, spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat. Montgomery's school system received $9 million of the $59.7 million it had requested.

"The Board of Public Works was put in a very difficult position," Weaver said. "They had to divide up a pie about half the size of the Glendening years."

Baltimore-area school systems received $53.4 million:

Anne Arundel County asked for $20.1 million and received $7.3 million for seven projects. The work approved yesterday involves renovations to Meade and South River high schools, and the replacement of Marley Elementary and Middle schools.

Baltimore officials received $11.5 million of the $38.2 million they sought. The money will fund 22 projects, $4.8 million of it for a renovation of the Baltimore School for the Arts.

Baltimore County asked for $30.7 million and received $11.6 million for construction of Woodholme Elementary School in Pikesville and renovations to Sudbrook Middle Magnet and Arbutus Middle schools.

Carroll County received $6.8 million, a little more than half of the $13 million educators had requested. It will go toward three projects, including a new elementary school.

Harford County, which had asked for $18.9 million, was given $7.4 million, most of it for renovating and expanding North Harford High School to help relieve crowding.

Howard County requested the second-largest amount in the state, $52.6 million, and got $8.8 million, which will go toward two new schools.

Although Baltimore received less than a third of the amount educators requested, Chief Operating Officer Carlton Epps said he is grateful.

"We certainly need that, and much more, but we realize that based on the dollars that are presently available to the public school construction program statewide, there's just not enough there to meet everybody's needs," Epps said. "We'll do the best we can with what we have."

Several Baltimore projects posing immediate health risks -- such as the leaking roof at Montebello Elementary -- were funded.

Other school officials also expressed thanks yesterday, despite receiving less than they sought.

"This was unexpected, and this was much appreciated," said Charles Herndon, a Baltimore County schools spokesman.

In Carroll County, Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent of administration, said, "We're pleased about the additional money. It very much helps."

In Howard County, interim Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said the funds the county received yesterday would give officials "some degrees of freedom."

In Harford County, yesterday's allotment of state funds means that the modernization of a more than 50-year-old high school can proceed.

"It was extremely important," said Chief Administrative Officer Raymond Brown, who will leave Harford this month to become chief business officer in Howard's school system.

Lever said his committee allocated the money based first on state education priorities, such as all-day kindergarten and science classroom renovations, before turning to local wants.

"In an ideal world, we'd do it all. But we can't do that, so we have to make some decisions," Lever said.

Last year, his committee announced a moratorium on planning funds for construction, saying a backlog of sanctioned projects awaiting payment would have to be cleared before more money could be allocated. The backlog then was about $260 million. Today it is $368 million.

"We lifted the moratorium, in effect," Lever said. "The backlog is growing; we recognize that. At the same time, we really can't stop projects from moving forward, because they're needed."

Sun staff writers Larry Carson, Athima Chansanchai and Jonathan D. Rockoff contributed to this article.

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