Construction materials take chunk out of budget

Rising costs mean schools to spend $14.7 million more

September 07, 2005|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

The escalating cost of construction materials accounts for a substantial increase in next year's $95.6 million school construction budget for Howard County schools being proposed by Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin.

The increase is reflected in almost every school project in the fiscal 2007 capital budget to be presented to the Board of Education tomorrow. For instance, a new northeastern elementary school in Ellicott City and a replacement school for Bushy Park Elementary are expected to cost at least $5 million more each.

Overall, the rise in costs is adding $14.7 million to the school construction price tag that school officials initially had anticipated to be about $78 million.

Cousin's budget request - which is $9.1 million more than this year's - includes planning money for two new projects: a 100-seat addition at Centennial Lane Elementary and a 50-seat addition at Running Brook Elementary. And plans for an addition at Waverly Elementary School have been expanded to include more seats.

Two projects, however, have been scrapped after a recent feasibility study showed that additions at Gorman Crossing Elementary and Glenwood Middle - 225 and 78 seats, respectively - were not needed. A new western middle school scheduled to open in 2011 would help accommodate growth in the west, said David C. Drown, the school system's demographer.

Across the state, school construction costs are expected to jump at least 20 percent from last year, which is reflected in the state's square-footage formula - climbing to $213 per square foot from $175 last year, Cousin said yesterday.

The financial impact could be greater because of the recent surge in gas prices brought on by Hurricane Katrina, Cousin said.

Adding to the cost pressure is uncertainty in funding for the capital budget.

Last year, the school system received almost all of its $86.5 million request because of an increase in state construction money.

But this year, revenue from the county's excise tax on new homes for school construction has been nearly exhausted, and attempts by County Executive James N. Robey to increase the real estate transfer tax have been rejected by the Howard County state delegation and the General Assembly.

"When the initial funding source was created, it was a compromise," said school board Chairman Courtney Watson. "We knew it wasn't going to be enough for long-term needs, but it was the most we could get through at the time. There is a question mark as to how these projects would be funded in the future."

The capital budget is funded through a combination of local and state money and bonds. Cousin said the school system and the county have to work to build a "sustainable funding source."

Excluding the unavoidable rise in construction costs, the proposed capital budget reflects prudent spending while balancing current and future school projects, said Maurice Kalin, a retired associate superintendent who was hired as a consultant to help implement the school system's new approach to redistricting and school construction.

Other projects in the superintendent's request include $970,000 for an addition and renovations at Glenelg High School, whose project has been hampered by a dispute over a wastewater treatment plant; $1.9 million for renovations at Mount Hebron High School; and $8.6 million for full-day kindergarten classrooms.

The superintendent is also asking for $3 million to reconfigure classrooms at the Applications and Research Lab; $900,000 for a feasibility study of the condition and modernization needs of existing schools; and $8.9 million for renovations and an addition at the old Cedar Lane School in Columbia.

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