Schools aim to cut capital spending

Proposal to board eliminates plans for new elementary, pushes back other projects

Howard County

September 24, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Howard County schools Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin unveiled last night a tight, $87.4 million capital budget for next year that eliminates plans for a new northern elementary school and accounts for a substantial increase in the cost of construction materials.

The proposal for Fiscal 2006 is $8.3 million less than this year's budget of $95.7 million because it no longer includes tens of millions of dollars for construction of Marriott's Ridge High School, which is scheduled to open next fall, and also defers projects at two elementary schools.

Cousin also cut $2.2 million in planning costs for a new northern elementary school from his budget because revised enrollment numbers no longer support the need.

Presented by schools chief operating officer Raymond Brown at a school board meeting, Cousin's capital budget request is a stark contrast to former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's record-breaking $149.8 million proposal last year, which was eventually trimmed to $95.7 million.

"It was a lot smaller than last year's, and we appreciate that," said board Chairman Courtney Watson.

In an earlier interview, Cousin characterized his budget as a "bare-bones" proposal that incorporates the district's needs and the county's ability to fund projects. "We want to come away with the amount that meets the school system's [requests] but is also realistic and affordable," he said.

The bulk of the proposed budget goes to building new schools and major renovations: $8.5 million to open a new western elementary school in 2006; $17.2 million to renovate Howard High School, which opened in 1951; and $23.3 million to build a new northeastern elementary school by 2007.

But rising prices of building materials, including steel, plywood and drywall, have added millions of dollars to those projects, school officials said. The rising cost of oil and the recent hurricanes in the southeast contributed to the price increases in construction items, Brown said.

The new northeastern elementary would relieve overcrowding in the north and northeastern regions of the county when it opens in fall 2007. Cousin said the school system is nearing an agreement with the Howard County YMCA in Ellicott City to obtain land off Montgomery Road for the school.

A planned addition at Gorman Crossing Elementary School in Laurel has been moved to 2007 because students from the Emerson development are expected to enroll in smaller numbers than anticipated, school officials said.

Major renovations for Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood were also pushed back to start in 2007 because school officials are looking at designing a single septic system that also would accommodate a future addition at nearby Glenwood Middle School.

The superintendent's request includes money for three new projects: a $1.4 million feasibility study of the condition and modernization needs of existing schools to help the board set priorities; $300,000 to reconfigure classrooms at the Applications and Research Lab; and $300,000 for renovation plans at the building that currently houses the Cedar Lane School in Columbia. The school, which educates severely disabled students, is scheduled to move next fall to a new location near Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton.

Other projects include $4.6 million for an addition and renovation of Glenelg High School; $4.7 million to create classrooms for full-day kindergarten; $1.2 million to add two classrooms at Lime Kiln; and $18.5 million in systemic renovations at various schools, including Guilford, Running Brook, Centennial Lane, Clarksville and Lisbon elementaries.

The board will hold a public hearing on the superintendent's budget proposal at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Board of Education building in Ellicott City, and it has scheduled a vote on the measure for Oct. 12.

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