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baltimoresun.com

Schools' capital budget request up $30 million from this year

By Sara Toth, stoth@tribune.com

1:38 PM EDT, September 7, 2012

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The cost of school construction is rising, the Board of Education was warned Thursday night, as Superintendent Renee Foose presented her $107.3 million capital budget request for fiscal year 2014, which means projects will cost more to build.

"I want to underscore this," Foose said. "It's very important to consider how this document relates to the overall objectives of the school system.

"When we talk about having a provision to have a world class system, it requires investments in fixed assets. ... We are continuing to align resources with system priorities in a challenging time of dwindling resources."

The "school construction sale has ended," said Deputy Superintendent of Operations Ray Brown as he presented Foose's budget. He pointed out that the cost per square foot of renovations at Northfield Elementary School — completed last year — were slightly more than $150.

In contrast, ongoing renovations at Atholton High School are costing about $225 per square foot. The last three major school renovations bid at $200 per square foot or higher, Brown said.

"That's an indication that the costs of construction will continue to grow," Brown said. "That means we'll have less dollars in the future to execute our projects if the revenue sources don't grow commensurate with the rise in cost of school construction."

The $107.3 million request is $30 million more than the school system's approved 2013 capital budget.

Brown also reminded the board of the growing list of deferred maintenance projects, the cost of which now totals $53 million. Half of that is for roofing projects.

Projects that will be funded in 2014's budget include some of those deferred maintenance projects, including new roofs at Howard High School, Rockburn Elementary School and Elkridge Landing Middle School, and the addition and renovation at Atholton. The request for that maintenance is $60 million.

Deep Run, Laurel Woods and Running Brook elementary schools will also see construction funded by the budget, with $38 million requested for those projects. Part of that $38 million will also go to building new elementary and middle schools in the Elkridge-Hanover area.

The new elementary school, on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge, is set to open August 2013, and has already received $30.9 million in appropriations in past years. The new middle school, part of the Oxford Square development in Hanover and set to open in August 2014, has already received $10 million in appropriations.

Brown's presentation also included a request of $553.4 million for the 2014-19 capital improvement program, and $1 billion for the long-range master plan, which spans 2014-23.

A public hearing and work session on the capital budget is scheduled for Sept. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at the Department of Education. The board will vote on the budget that night, and the request will then be sent to the state and county.

Board Vice Chairman Frank Aquino urged the school community to come to the public hearing to speak in support of local projects, and to communicate not only with the board, but other Howard County officials about projects that need funds.

"Let your other elected officials know how important the school system capital projects are for Howard County," Aquino said.