Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

March 04, 2007

Renovation option is not a good one

School officials met with concerned citizens at Mount Hebron High School last month regarding options to address the aging facility. The school officials clearly preferred a $50 million renovation. They presented other options, including a new building at the Mount Hebron site for approximately $80 million.

The meeting offered an opportunity for written questions for the officials to answer. At this time, we learned the school officials have not performed a life cycle cost analysis of any viable option, nor do they intend to. We believe this is fiscally irresponsible.

The $50 million renovation option leaves many areas of the school untouched and does not come close to meeting the state of Maryland's current educational specifications. In addition, the school has sewage problems of an unknown cause in the science wing, unexplained mold in the English wing, small hallways (some measuring only 6 feet wide), and lacks conformance with current safety standards. The proposed renovation for $50 million does not provide an adequate educational nor structurally sound facility for our children.

Therefore the option to renovate is not a good use of our taxes.

The school officials are quick to point out that building a new school would be an additional $30 million. However, there are many mitigating factors. The $50 million figure is misleading because it does not allow for overruns caused by unknown issues inherent in any renovation project. How many of us have gone to fix an electrical switch or replace a leaky faucet only to find more work and expense was required than originally anticipated? This is especially true if we're connecting a new system to outdated systems. This potential for overruns could easily be an additional $7.5 [million] to $10 million. Another potential cost in renovation is the unexplained sewage and mold issues at the school.

Because these are health issues, they must be addressed when the cause is determined. This will add more cost to the renovation. Finally, according to the school system, the state of Maryland would contribute an additional $5 million for a new school. These mitigating factors considerably reduce the difference in cost between building a new school versus the proposed renovations.

The investment to build a new school gives Howard County a new facility opening at capacity with new infrastructure that will last many years. It gets a school that meets current educational needs, health and safety standards, and technology upgrades.

Now is the time to hold those making the decision to renovate or build at Mount Hebron fiscally responsible to the Howard County taxpayers.

Terry and Deanna Trask Ellicott City

Town Center should go up, not out

Think up - not out.

As the various factions in Howard County contemplate plans for Columbia's "downtown," one thing becomes clearer every day. Building in Town Center should be focused on "up."

With the limited amount of land available, building "up" is absolutely the way to go: both from an aesthetic and practical standpoint. As much as many of the factions want to keep the lakefront area pedestrian-friendly and assure that the vistas remain pleasing to the eye, one must also look at the financial aspect of the entire project.

The idea of height restrictions, as proposed by some county leaders, is not without merit, but who is to say what those restrictions should be? Just because the tallest building in Town Center is 150 feet high doesn't mean that taller buildings can't be compatible with their surroundings.

General Growth brought on WCI to build a large lakefront living unit, and WCI, which is among the largest high-rise condominium builders in the world, proposed its 23-story tower. I'm sure WCI's business pro-forma was done with care, and if a 16-story building or even a 30-story building made sense that's what the company would have recommended.

Overlooked in the fray is the positive economic input to Howard County, and Columbia, of high-rise buildings. There are 162 condominium units in WCI's building. A quick tally of the asking prices shows that the average unit will sell for around $900,000.

That translates into $1,458,000 in transfer taxes into the county coffers. In addition, there would be $1,924,000 in yearly real estate taxes paid to the county year after year. The Columbia Association would gain $495,720 a year - again year after year (and those numbers would rise as values rise).

With ever increasing costs to provide local services as the county grows, that kind of income should be warmly welcomed by government officials and taxpayers alike.

Those numbers reflect a buying population whose demographics are optimum for any area: mature people who normally don't have school-age children; affluent folks who will bring large disposable income to the area, which means increased revenue for restaurants and other retail establishments.

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