A Howard County school system appeal for a share of state funds to build a new Talbott Springs Elementary School has been rejected by a state committee that allocates school construction dollars.
The Interagency Committee on School Construction last year decided renovating the 45-year-old Columbia school would be “the most cost-effective solution” and said it would not commit state funds for a replacement building that the county school system wanted.
The decision, reviewed by the state again Thursday, touched off a round of appeals and now has the school system and county leaders looking at ways to come up with the money for a new building, estimated to cost nearly $42 million, in the years ahead.
In an effort to gain increased financial support from the state, the Howard County school board voted May 17 to move forward with the project by conducting another study of the site to try to find a more efficient project design.
Talbott Springs is in one of “most disadvantaged communities” and it provides many resources outside of school functions for those in the area, Bruce Gist, the school system’s executive director of capital planning and operations wrote in a winter letter appealing the initial IAC decision favoring renovation over a new building.
County Executive Allan Kittleman wrote a letter in support of the school system’s appeal expanding on how the school serves the community by having food and clothing collections and social and professional community liaison services. Teacher planning areas and storage closets are used to meet the service needs.
While the state is aware of the public support for a replacement building and does “empathize with the concerns” of the community, the building “is in good structural condition, with solid finish materials and positive architectural features, such as high ceilings in some classrooms,” according to an April letter from Fred Mason, a state school construction official.
The school, built in 1973 has 491 students from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade, and a new building could be designed for about 600 students.
Talbott Springs has been renovated twice in the past 18 years, once in 2000 and again in 2008.
The state has questioned whether a replacement school could be redesigned to make it more cost effective and if “unusual” school boundaries could be redrawn to avoid overcrowding in other nearby schools. The state also wants more information about a language immersion program based at Talbott Springs.
State experts have have visited Talbott Springs at least twice and concluded that the existing building is in good condition and needs updates to wall heights and air-handling systems.
Kittleman’s capital budget proposal allocates $2.6 million for the proposed project “to start renovation-addition work.”
The county executive’s office is confident that the state will decide to fully fund the project, said Caryn Lasser, deputy chief of staff for the county executive.
“We are supporting the school systems request,” Lasser said. “The priority is to have the school built...that is the goal.”
The school system says a $3.7 million surplus from other capital construction projects could be assigned to Talbott Springs, with additional funds coming in future years.