School repair costs increase

Baltimore County adds funds for renovations at two middle schools

Baltimore County adds funds for school renovations

December 12, 2005|By LIZ F. KAY .. | LIZ F. KAY ..,SUN REPORTER

With new state requirements for matching money and increased costs for building materials, Baltimore County school officials are putting more money into school renovations - including a project whose price tag is now nearly twice the original estimate.

County school board members approved last week a request for a $7.74 million budget supplement to partially renovate Arbutus and Ridgely middle schools.

Board member Rodger C. Janssen asked at the meeting why the Ridgely project went up about 23 percent, to $14.4 million, and the project at Arbutus increased by 92 percent, to $10.6 million.

The Arbutus project now includes more items than reflected in the initial estimate, school facilities officials said.

New state requirements have been put in place since 1996, when the initial estimate was developed. The state now will pay half the cost of improvements if school systems plan at least $1.5 million for enhancements that support new initiatives, schools spokeswoman Kara Calder said.

For example, the state-mandated phase-in of all-day kindergarten has required many school systems to add portable classrooms outside schools to make more seats available inside buildings for younger children.

"It does bump up the county contribution, but it also maximizes state participation and really makes it the best project," Calder said.

The renovation of science classrooms at Arbutus now includes window replacement and work on the ventilation system, Michael G. Sines, executive director of facilities, said at the meeting.

School systems around Baltimore have been affected by heightened demand caused by rebuilding after the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region and development both locally and as far away as China that has driven up prices for materials and supplies.

"We're getting some horror stories," Sines said.

Last year, rebar prices nearly doubled and lumber prices went up about 25 percent, according to the school system. Costs for lumber decreased slightly this year, although structural steel, pipes and fittings posted steady increases.

Because prices could get higher, "the worst thing we thought we could do is defer" the projects at Arbutus and Ridgely, Sines said. "We could incur an additional 20 to 30 percent increase."

The 11 school board members at the meeting voted unanimously in favor of the budget supplement. It will now go before County Council members, who must also support the change.

County officials often point out that their building stock ranks as the second-oldest in the state, behind only Baltimore City.

The average age of the county's 25 high schools is about 43 years. Among the 26 middle schools, it's 46 years, and the 104 elementaries average about 44 years.

Repairing aging schools continues to be a priority for Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who recently toured Arbutus Middle with state and school officials to demonstrate the need.

In October, the county school board voted to forward to state officials a capital improvement program that included 50 requests totaling more than $108 million in state money for school construction. County schools received nearly $25 million of the $70.3 million in state funding requested for the current fiscal year, school officials said.

Board members will re-examine county funding for the capital improvement projects during the budget process later this year; the county's share is now estimated at nearly $54.1 million.

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