Public comment urged on school capital plan


Howard County residents will have a chance tonight to comment on a proposal to spend $250 million for public school construction, renovations and additions over the next 10 years.

About 20 residents have so far signed up to speak during the hearing.

The proposal was introduced last week by schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, who has proposed several ways to cut construction costs, including adopting year-round schedules and building cheaper schools.

In a Sept. 23 letter to Mr. Hickey, County Councilman Darrel Drown proposed several ways to cut construction costs and reduce rising debt service costs.

He also suggested year-round schools, in addition to leasing buildings and purchasing larger school sites.

"Maybe one option is to tell a developer of a commercial property, 'you build us a building now and we'll give it back to you in 15 years,' " Mr. Drown said.

"We get a win-win situation out of that: no more maintenance costs and no more under-enrolled schools," he said.

But Mr. Hickey said he has already considered many of the councilman's suggestions.

The superintendent said he plans to explore leasing buildings and converting unused school buildings into day care centers for senior citizens and preschool children in the next decade.

Mr. Drown said he is also worried about rising debt service.

He said the first three years of the plan would increase the county's debt service by as much as $13 million.

"I'm afraid we're going to be clobbered by debt service payments," Mr. Drown said. "I'm worried that we will be spending too much on bricks and mortar and not enough in classrooms."

Of the proposed $250 million, $62.8 million would be used for projects in 1994.

Of that 1994 amount, about $59 million would come from the county. The remaining $3.7 million would come from transfer taxes.

The school construction money would be raised primarily through the sale of county bonds.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the 1994 capital budget and long-range capital improvement plans on Oct. 8.

The public is also invited to comment tonight on the fiscal 1994 operating budget, which will be released in January.


What: Public hearing on proposed $250 million school capital budget.

Where: School board meeting rooms, 10910 Route 108, Ellicott City.

When: 7:30 p.m.

Information: 313-6600.

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