Schools grapple with costs

Rising price of construction in the district prompts officials to request more funding


Noting skyrocketing construction costs, Carroll County school officials are seeking $115 million from state and local coffers for the next fiscal year to keep pace with growth and provide all-day kindergarten.

"We're seeing a 150 percent increase in costs," facilities director Ray Prokop said during last week's school board meeting. "It's going to give everyone fits."

Building Winters Mill High, which opened in 2002, cost about $34.5 million, Prokop said. Now, estimates are that a new high school in the northeast would cost $66 million, he said.

"Those are the kind of impacts we're seeing," he said. "The fear we have is that these numbers are never going to roll back. [The increase] may slow, but [costs] may never roll back."

The district, which annually sets building priorities, wants more than $31 million from the state and nearly $84 million from the county, according to school officials. For fiscal year 2006, requests from state and county totaled nearly $33 million.

A public hearing on the proposed construction budget has been scheduled for Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. at the school system's central office, 125 N. Court St., Westminster. The request is expected to go before the board for a vote at its Sept. 13 meeting.

In recent years, enrollment growth has been relatively stable, but school officials are struggling to keep pace with the influx of new residents to Carroll.

The top three projects include building Ebb Valley Elementary, a new northeast-area high school and a four-classroom addition at Freedom Elementary to house kindergartners.

For fiscal year 2008, which starts July 1, 2007, school officials are requesting that the remainder of the state's portion - $6 million - go toward Ebb Valley's construction in the northeast area of the county. Building plans for the $21.5 million school remain on schedule, and the building is to open for nearly 600 pupils in August 2008.

School officials have projected that elementary schools in that region - Manchester and Hampstead - will be 420 pupils over capacity by 2007 and 590 pupils over capacity by 2013. To qualify for state construction funding, school officials must demonstrate that the proposed school would be 50 percent full at its opening and at capacity within five years.

School officials are also pushing to build a high school to ease crowding at North Carroll High in Hampstead and Winters Mill High in Westminster. Projected enrollments, based on September 2004 data, suggest that schools in the area will be over capacity by more than 300 students by 2007 and by nearly 500 students in 2014.

In fiscal year 2008, school officials are seeking more than $60 million - nearly $9 million from the state and $51 million from the county - to build the 215,000-square-foot high school for 1,250 students.

Although no site has been obtained, plans are to open the building in August 2010.

At Freedom Elementary in Sykesville, the plan is to add four classrooms and an elevator to make the rooms accessible from the main building, renovate two kindergarten classrooms into resource rooms and relocate the school's computer lab.

School board member C. Scott Stone objected to the Freedom project's placement high on the list of priorities, saying that it was not included in the system's approved 2006-2015 facilities master plan.

Prokop said the Freedom project was added because of the need for kindergarten rooms.

"I'm inclined not to support this because it's not in the facilities master plan," Stone said. "I understand we have needs, but it's likely we have needs at other elementary schools."

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker said the facilities master plan would have to be amended if board members approve a construction budget that maintains the Freedom project.

Other top priorities for fiscal 2008 include replacing Westminster High's 36-year-old HVAC system at a cost of about $26 million and replacing the roof at Mount Airy Middle, which is a $750,000 job.

Pointing to old estimates that set the cost of replacing Westminster's HVAC system at $12 million, Prokop said, "We're pretty close [on the new estimate] with this number, as scary as it is."

Top 10 priority projects

Capital improvement requests for fiscal 2008. Some project costs are requested in other budget years.

Project State County

Ebb Valley Elementary $6 mil.

Northeast-area high school $8.6 mil. $51.6 mil.

Freedom Elementary addition $1.3 mil. $2.4 mil

Westminster High HVAC replacement $15 mil. $11 mil.

Mount Airy Middle roof replacement $428,000 $326,000

South Carroll High fine arts addition $1.7 mil.

Long-range Career & Technology plan $6.2 mil.

South Carroll-area middle school $4 mil.

Relocatable classroom movement $360,000

Paving $1.1 mil.

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