The Board of Education Thursday opted to renovate Longfellow Elementary School in phases, with the students still in the building, rather than build a new school on the site of the Faulkner Ridge Center.
Building a replacement school would cost more than Longfellow renovations, Executive Director of Facilities, Planning and Management Ken Roey told the board, and the system already has money for the Longfellow renovations.
The decision came during a work session prior to the board's approval of a $107 million capital budget request for fiscal year 2014.
In addition to the Longfellow renovations, the capital budget includes funds for ongoing renovations at Atholton High School, the new elementary school on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge, the new middle school in the Oxford Square development, and deferred maintenance projects like roofs at Howard High School, Rockburn Elementary School, and Elkridge Landing Middle School. Deep Run, Laurel Woods and Running Brook elementary schools will also see construction funded by $38 million requested in the budget.
The $107 million request is $30 million more than the school system's 2013 capital budget.
Roey recommended renovating Longfellow because, he said, building a replacement school would cost $15 million more than renovations, and that's $15 million the schools could be spending on other projects. Besides, Roey said, the replacement school at Faulkner Ridge alone "will not be able to handle enrollment growth coming out of Columbia Town Center."
Furthermore, Roey said, the state would be unlikely to approve a building at Faulkner Ridge that had more capacity than Longfellow's. Some board members asked if a new Faulkner school could be used as a "swing school" or "holding school" for years to come, housing students as their local schools were renovated, but Roey said it would be years for that to have a positive impact on the budget, and costs like transportation have to be factored in.
"Would you be willing to bus the entire population of Deep Run Elementary (in Elkridge) to Faulkner for a year as well?" Roey said as an example. "I would love to have a holding school. I'm a facility person, but I think that the fiscally prudent answer is to go with the renovation."
The board first discussed using Faulkner Ridge Center in some capacity during Longfellow's renovations this summer. The building sits one mile from Longfellow, and until closed in 1979, was Faulkner Ridge Elementary.
The school was closed because of declining student population and the need for more space to train staff. Over the years, the building has been used as office space and a space for professional development training, but has been vacant since 2011 and is currently used for storage.
Roey said the Longfellow project could go to bid by the end of 2013, with construction starting shortly thereafter. Work would be completed by August 2015.
At its meeting, the board also approved a request of $553.4 million for the capital improvement program for fiscal years 2015-2019. The long-range master plan the board approved for fiscal years 2014-2023 now totals $1 billion.
"(When public hearings on redistricting start) we'll be chastised for not planning ahead," said Board Chairwoman Sandra French. "Yet we just approved the long-range plan. We always look 10 years out."