Schools may see costly future

Report to county board estimates $1.5 billion needed for upgrading and expanding facilities

July 16, 2006|By ANICA BUTLER | ANICA BUTLER,SUN REPORTER

Upgrading, renovating and expanding the Anne Arundel County school system's buildings and facilities could cost as much as $1.5 billion, according to a report commissioned by the school board.

The Strategic Facilities Utilization Master Plan projects that school enrollment countywide will remain flat over the next decade but recommends shifting attendance boundaries for 32 of the county's elementary schools and changing middle schools in the Annapolis and Broadneck feeder systems to add fifth grade.

The report by MGT of America, a national management and consulting firm, also says priority should be given to replacing two high schools - Northeast and Old Mill - as well as eight elementary schools. No middle schools were on the priority list to be replaced.

Several schools are named in the report as places the school system should look to place alternative programs, such as special education, vocational classes or multischool kindergarten programs. The report also recommends that the school system develop standards for the use of portable classrooms and review school attendance boundaries every three years.

Parents living in the Severna Park area showed up at the school board's meeting last week, some wearing buttons, asking that the school board not move their children out of the Folger McKinsey Elementary School attendance area. No such recommendation is made in the report, and board member Enrique Melendez questioned why the parents were there.

"It's unfortunate the community of Severna Park is in an uproar," Melendez said. "We're looking countywide. This is not about a community."

County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, also spoke at the board meeting.

"I came here expecting to hear a lot of things different than I did," she said.

The only boundary change recommended in the report for the Severna Park High School feeder system is for Benfield Elementary School, but those students would remain in the feeder system. The report does recommend, however, replacing the aging Folger McKinsey Elementary School, which last fall was named a National Blue Ribbon School, at an estimated cost of more than $24 million.

The report divides its recommendations into three priority lists. The top list includes replacing eight elementary schools: Belle Grove, Folger McKinsey, Germantown, Lothian, Pershing Hill, Point Pleasant, Southgate and West Meade.

Two high schools also are on that list: Northeast High School and Old Mill High School. The list recommends renovations for Severna Park High School.

The total cost of all items on that priority list is more than $483 million.

School officials said the information and recommendations in the report could be used in September when work begins on the capital budget for the 2007-2008 school year. Redistricting options typically come before the board in December, but board members and school staff said it isn't likely that much of the information or recommendations will be used in making decisions for next school year.

"We're looking at a 10-year plan, things scheduled over time," said Alex Szachnowicz, the school system's acting director of facilities.

The report contains assessments of all the school system's facilities, demographic data and recommendations for the school system on how to make the best use of its buildings, including replacing some schools, renovating others and changing grade configurations at some locations.

The board hired MGT of America in November to produce the report for about $490,000. Now that board members have received the approximately 1,000 pages of report and documentation, they will decide on how best to use the information, including the possibility of workshops and public hearings to be announced in August.

The ultimate goal, said board President Tricia Johnson, is to use the information in the report as the board develops a long-term plan for the school system.

Among the school system's issues are changing enrollment patterns, a state mandate to offer full-day kindergarten at all 77 of its elementary schools by the 2007-2008 school year, and aging facilities. Representatives of MGT told the board last week that they don't recommend any new facilities, saying they think the school system already has enough space.

Johnson said that there is still a lot to digest and a lot of work to be done before the board decides what actions to take.

"It's just one tool, one piece to use in making decisions in the future," she said. "It's not the end-all, be-all by any stretch of the imagination."

The report is available online at the school system's Web site: www.aacps.org

anica.butler@baltsun.com

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