Panel votes for increase in school building funds


A county advisory panel voted yesterday to more than double the money the Board of Education should get for building projects next year compared to this year. But the total was barely one fourth what the board had sought.

The Planning Advisory Board recommended a capital budget of $26.5 million for the school system, most of which would go for two new elementary schools -- Solley Elementary in North County and Meade Heights Elementary at Fort Meade in the western part of the county.

This year, the school board got $13 million for building projects. School officials submitted a capital budget request of $105 million for next year, but County Executive Robert R. Neall wants to limit the capital budget for the entire county to $100 million.

The Planning Advisory Board, which makes recommendations on the capital budget to the county executive, voted on about half the requests made by county department heads. It approved plans for a $43 million circuit court house in Annapolis, with the cost to be spread over the next several years, and $634,000 for a new library on Mountain Road in Pasadena.

The five-member board received requests for almost $192 million worth of projects. But county budget analyst Gregory V. Nourse delivered a reality check yesterday when he recommended approval of only $112 million worth of projects, and informed the panel of Mr. Neall's $100 million capital budget cap.

Mr. Nourse pointed out one easy way to cut in half the $12 million difference between his recommendations and Mr. Neall's cap -- shift $6 million in planning costs for the new circuit courthouse from the coming fiscal year to 1995.

The advisory board combed the budget for another $6 million to cut and focused on plans for an addition to Deale Elementary School in South County. That would save $4.4 million.

School officials said that the two new elementary schools are about half what they need to build to keep up with the county's growing population and to keep to a schedule of renovating every school in the next 40 years. To maintain that schedule, the county needs to renovate three schools and build one every year, said Michael Raible, director of planning and construction for the school system.

The approval of only two schools "means we're on a 60-year renovation cycle," he said.

"It's unfortunate to be placed in this situation," he complained. "But at some point, this is going to catch up with us. At some point, we're going to have to take the need for new school funding seriously. We thought we had gotten that message across."

The planning advisory board will complete its voting next Thursday and will present its interim report to Mr. Neall. After the county executive review the panel's recommendations, it will take a final vote on the capital budget on April 8.

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