Some see Stadium Authority role in school construction

January 23, 2013|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

Some Baltimore legislators, determined to win state approval of the city's ambitious plan to launch a $2.4 billion, 10-year overhaul of the state's aging school facilities, are actively considering bringing in the Maryland Stadium Authority to provide construction expertise and financial oversight.

The lawmakers' concern is that some state leaders who are otherwise sympathetic to the plight of Baltimore schoolchildren have concerns that the city school system lacks the ability on its own to manage a project of that scope.

One idea that has been proposed is to set up a new authority to oversee construction contracting and monitoring of projects. Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat who sits on the pivotal Budget & Taxation Committee, said that idea calls for a board with three representatives each from the state, City Hall and the city school system.

McFadden said that if that arrangement doesn't satisfy skeptics who want a more powerful state role, he's willing to consider a role for the stadium authority or another, existing state entity such as the Maryland Higher Educational Facilities Authority.

"If someone has a  better mousetrap, we're willing to consider it," McFadden said. "It could be any entity that helps us accellerate the process."

The plan backed by Alonso and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake involves turning $32 million a year of the city's annual allotment of state school construction aid into a block grant that could then be used along with city funds to float bonds to finance the massive reconstruction project. Among those expressing trepidation about the plan has been Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who at one point described the notion as "ridiculous."

But McFadden, a key Miller ally who serves as president pro tem, said Baltimore Senate delegation -- all Democrats like Miller -- is holding discussions with the Senate president.

Two members of the city's House delegation also confirmed that there has been discussion of bringing in an existing entity to provide oversight of the project.

Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who is a senior member of House leadership, said she has heard discussion of a stadium authority role as well.

"They're a trusted entity. Why don't we use them?" she said.

Despite its name, the stadium authority has taken on many projects over the last two decades in addition to sports arenas. Among them have been the convention centers in Baltimore and Ocean City, the Hippodrome Pergorming Arts Center and projects at the University of Maryland College Park. The authority has even has a role in the Baltimore Grand Prix, for which it helped prepare the race course.




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