Record capital budget planned

Robey proposes spending more than $235 million

A new Bushy Park Elementary

Funding also suggested for HCC and hospital

April 03, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Although asking for less school construction money than last year, Howard County Executive James N. Robey is proposing a record $235.3 million capital budget to the County Council.

He is planning for a sale of $85.3 million in bonds, another county record, to help finance the requests, but more state money for school construction could modify that.

Aided by money borrowed against the county's excise tax on new homes, Robey included $10 million to begin work on a new, larger Bushy Park Elementary School in Glenwood and $4 million to help complete a new elementary school in Dayton, also in the western county.

"[Bushy Park] is the most crowded elementary school in our county, and the students and parents of this school have stood in line long enough, and now it's their turn," Robey said. "I want to fix it and get started as quickly as we can."

Bushy Park parents couldn't agree more, according to Eileen Deitz, vice president of the school PTA. "For us, this is a huge accomplishment that he has kept us in the capital budget ... " she said. "Our kids are so overcrowded, it's unbelievable."

In addition, the $78 million devoted to schools - compared with $95 million last year - includes $17.1 million to help pay for a major renovation of Howard High School, $13.3 million for the new northeastern elementary in Ellicott City and $4.7 million for more all-day kindergarten classrooms.

Still, Robey did not fund $8.4 million in school renovation requests, or a $28.7 million project to replace the Ellicott City Library with a larger building, because no site has been selected.

"I think we're pleased it's as high as it is, but I think there's a deficit we'll have to address. We're pleased he's been able to find the money for Bushy Park Elementary," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman.

Robey also matched state funding for a new $25 million building at Howard Community College and included $7.2 million for a parking garage at the college that will be repaid from fees charged all students, according to James M. Irvin, the public works director. "I don't want to delay a year," Robey said, explaining why he didn't wait for the new Revenue Authority that the county's legislators approved to build the garage.

The executive also included $3 million toward a planned $73 million expansion and renovation project at Howard County General Hospital.

Victor A. Broccolino, the hospital's president and chief executive officer, said the project has grown. The hospital plans to add 42 beds, convert all the semiprivate rooms to private, and build a parking deck. No money is coming directly from Johns Hopkins Hospital, which merged with Howard County General, he said, so the county help, while small, is critical.

The $5.8 million included for the public safety training facility at the Alpha Ridge Landfill could be controversial because the $23 million project is $6 million over original estimates. "The original designs of the public safety training facility were done before [the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks]," Robey said. Because Howard is between Baltimore and Washington, the county must be prepared to deal with anthrax and other scares, he said.

Also in the mix is $1.4 million for renovations to the Savage Fire station, $800,000 to start renovations at the West Friendship station and $920,000 for land for a new station on the north side of Route 100 at Route 103 in Ellicott City.

Even smaller projects, such as the $300,000 included to plan renovations at Cedar Lane School in Harper's Choice after its severely handicapped students move to new quarters in Fulton, can generate intense interest. "I am just really excited about that," said Ken Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat on the County Council. He wants the building converted for use by special-needs adults, who must travel for day programs in Silver Spring or Annapolis, he said.

County agencies can also use the building, making it a genuine community center, he said.

A public hearing on the budget is to be held before the County Council at 7:30 p.m. April 21 at the George Howard Building. The council must approve a budget for fiscal 2006 by June 1.

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