Howard County's ambitious school-building program, which has opened two new schools a year for the last two years, will be stepped up a notch for 1991-1992.

In addition to a $34 million capital budget request that includes a plan to open three new schools in 1991-1992, the five-year capital improvement program that Superintendent Michael E. Hickey is scheduled to submit to the school board Thursday contains a substantial cost increase.

The price tag of the five-year capital improvement program plus the next year's capital budget has risen from $166.7 million a year ago (covering 1990-1991 to 1995-1996) to $210.9 million (covering 1991-1992 to 1996-1997).

The new long-range plan calls for the school system to build two schools that weren't in the plans of a year ago, to speed construction of another and to renovate and expand one high school.

School planners moved up the opening of a second western elementary school from August 1996 to August 1995, added $10 million for a second northeastern elementary school to open in August 1996 and $10.7 million for a third western elementary school to open in August 1997.

Addition of the two elementary schools to the long-range plan was based on population projections that show a need in the northeastern and western areas of the county, reported William J. Brown, director of school construction.

Brown said the plans did not take into account the possible passage of an adequate facilities law, intended to slow the pace of growth, and whether the law would indeed have that effect.

"We have to kind of rely on the county planning department for that, because they deal in permits. We deal in kids," Brown said. He said the five-year capital improvement program could be revised if an adequate facilities bill is passed and begins to slow growth.

The five-year program includes renovations and an addition to Wilde Lake High School, estimated at $19 million, to be completed in August 1997.

Wilde Lake, opened in 1971, was designed with an all-electric heating and cooling system that is now obsolete, school planners pointed out in justifying the project. The addition, planned for 38,000 square feet, will bring the school's capacity from 920 students to 1,200.

The long-range program calls for opening two new schools and the school system's long-awaited environmental science center in August 1993.

The following year will be relatively quiet, with the opening of just one new school, a second northern elementary.

The 1994-1995 fiscal year will again bring stepped-up construction activity, with three new schools scheduled to open in August 1995: a second western elementary, a northeastern middle and a ninth high school, the first high school to be constructed since Centennial High opened in 1977.

The school will be built in the western area of the county.

School board members will hear comments from the public on the superintendent's 1991-1992 capital budget and the plan for the next five years at a hearing at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2. Citizens will also be able to make requests during the hearing for items they wish included in the 1991-1992 operating budget, to be introduced in December.

The 1991-1992 capital budget request calls for the county government to finance most of the $34 million construction program by selling bonds.

The budget request is based on $26.7 million in bond financing, $3.9 million in state government support and $3.4 million in transfer tax income.

School construction bonds constitute "more than a drop in the bucket," said Dale Neubert, deputy director of finance for the county government, although $26.7 million is a small amount contrasted with the $148.9 million the county has in bonds that have been earmarked for projects, but not yet sold.

Howard County does not sell bonds for a project until the money has been spent, Neubert said. To pay the bills that come due before bonds are sold, the county uses short-term bond anticipation notes, she said.

Both the 1991-1992 budget proposal and the five-year plan also include money for projects such as portable classrooms, partitions, roof repairs, land for school sites, a school system warehouse and making schools barrier-free for the handicapped.

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