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Editorial: Timing of school cost increase doesn't add up

We get the notion of rising costs. Inflation is a fact of life. But we're having a tough time with this one: In four months, the cost to build a new Carroll County Career and Technology Center for the school system might have increased by as much as $37 million.

We won't know the exact amount until county officials can dig into the numbers, but how can the cost of a $60 million project potentially rise more than 60 percent in such a short period of time?

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In April, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners gave an OK to spend $30 million to fund the new center, with an additional $30 million expected to come from the state. Fast-forward to a school officials work session on Wednesday, when Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie told the gathering that the cost could be as much as $97 million — $27 million more from the county and hopefully another $10 million from the state. The difference is being attributed to project delays and spiraling construction costs. After the meeting, Ted Zaleski, county budget director, said it was too soon to know if the county was going to be able to provide the additional dollars.

The difference is certainly disturbing, especially given how the school system and the county commissioners have been at odds lately over money. It'll be interesting to see how Guthrie and the Board of Education try to get another $27 million out of the county, especially considering that county commissioners are still wondering where there's enough land for this new school to be built. Is this just a continuation of the communciation divide we've seen before?

We're equally concerned about how this will impact the future of the project. The current center has been an unqualified success, so much so that the county needs to build a bigger one. The present building is 135,000 square feet, not enough to hold the demands from the student population, schools facilities manager Bill Caine says. Based on these trends, the county had plans for the new center for several years. The new building would be about 200,000 square feet and, as you would expect, updated with the latest technology.

At a time when Carroll's student population is declining systemwide, it's good to see the county putting a priority on placing resources — such as building a new school — where the enrollment is growing. And, to put the cost of the school in some perspective, Anne Arundel County is spending about $130 million to build a new high school in Severna Park. So, the new cost doesn't seem out of line. But why are we hearing this now, when the price was so much less back in the spring?

What's disquieting is the surprise. We don't expect every project bid to be exact. But is it too much to ask that they be in the same ballpark?

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