www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/anne-arundel/bs-ar-schools-feasibility-study-20110922,0,3795185.story

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Arundel school board OKs construction studies

$204.8 million budget proposal includes $135 million for renovations at 11 schools

By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

9:01 PM EDT, September 22, 2011

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The Anne Arundel Board of Education approved feasibility studies for six elementary schools Wednesday, prompting elation from teachers, parents and students eager to see their facilities get what they believe are much-needed makeovers.

Lothian and Rolling Knolls elementary schools are to be rebuilt. West Annapolis and Benfield elementary schools are slated for modernization, including mechanical, electrical and plumbing upgrades, as well as moving interior walls. Crofton and Mills-Parole elementaries are to be revitalized, work that usually includes electrical, plumbing, technology and roofing upgrades.

School board members also unanimously approved a $204.8 million capital budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 that calls for more than $135 million in renovation projects at 11 schools. That work includes the completion of projects at Northeast High School and Point Pleasant Elementary School. The budget also contains $5.7 million in design funding for the replacement of Severna Park High School.

The school board will consider the capital budget again this winter before forwarding it to County Executive John R. Leopold for inclusion in his proposed 2013 budget. The County Council will review that plan and adopt a final capital budget for the school system by June 1.

But the most eagerly anticipated board decisions were the ones involving the feasibility studies. The meeting began at 7 p.m. Wednesday and lasted about five hours, prompting some to utter "Good morning," when it ended.

Still, many teachers, faculty, students and neighborhood residents stuck around to hear their school's names called for makeovers.

"Yay!" exclaimed Rolling Knolls Principal Jane Taylor, whose 39,000-square-foot school would be scrapped in favor of a facility of more than 85,000 square feet.

She said the Annapolis school is in such need of a makeover that some in the schools community call it "Rolling Knolls Reformatory."

Mills-Parole Elementary would get a new cafeteria and kitchen, a 110-space parking lot and new doors, ceiling tiles and lockers.

Principal Alfreda Adams said students, parents and teachers have been looking forward to the improvements.

"This community needs space, she said. "We are overcrowded."

Alex Szachnowicz, the chief operating officer for the county schools, said the feasibility studies generally cost $50,000 to $100,000 each and that the renovations are expected to last.

"In each and every scenario," he said, "we look at a 40-year life cycle for that building."

Other schools made pitches to receive makeovers.

"We have some significant health and safety concerns regarding the building," said Jenny Corkill, the PTA president at Edgewater Elementary. "The children at our school can't drink the water because we have lead in our pipes. We have mold that you can see in the classrooms and the walls with the naked eye."

The school board's capital budget would prioritize construction projects. The plan includes $27 million for projects that officials said should help reduce the maintenance backlog, $10 million to help accommodate full-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten programs, and $9 million for open-space classroom enclosures.

"There is no question that the environments in which our children learn play a large part in their opportunities to excel," Arundel Superintendent Kevin Maxwell said in a statement. "It is our responsibility, even in this constrained fiscal environment, to continue to advocate for the needs of our children so that we can eradicate our backlog and provide our children with updated facilities that accelerate their learning."

The board approved a motion by member Amalie Brandenburg to consider reviewing the order of projects on the waiting list for feasibility studies.

The board also approved changes to its agreements with the county's four bargaining units that it says will save $4 million in health care costs during the current year and an added $26 million in projected costs over several years. School officials said salary increases were not included in the agreements and will remain at the current levels.

jburris@baltsun.com

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