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Building for the future


All told, it is a $710 million building program. But you won't hear much about it in the weeks and months ahead. Maryland's capital, or construction, budget is one of this state's best-kept secrets. Yet what's placed in this budget determines the shape of this state's infrastructure in the years to come.

There is little that is sexy in Gov. William Donald Schaefer's latest capital program. It is a sign of the times, though, that state leaders have agreed to increase building plans by some $63 million over last year. Indeed, there is light at the end of Maryland's long recessionary tunnel.

Education takes a big chunk of state construction funds. Of particular note is the $75 million allocated for school construction -- $15 million more than last year, but less than recommended by a task force. It includes $5 million to repay local governments forced to put up their own school-building money to meet soaring enrollments.

On the college level, College Park gets $4.4 million to start construction of its performing arts center, plus $7 million to finish renovations to Cole Field House and Byrd Stadium. Locally, there's $26 million for UM's Baltimore City campus' Health Science Library and $11 million for a second engineering building at Morgan State University.

Downtown Baltimore gets $3 million toward construction of a children's museum at the Brokerage and there is $12 million set aside for purchase of a downtown office building to house government offices now in leased space. Another $14 million is included to help with demolition of high-rise low-income housing and to build garden-style replacement units.

Across the state, the governor wants design money for a renovated convention center in Ocean City, $7 million for the on-going redevelopment of Silver Spring, and $8 million for an archaeological conservation facility in Calvert County.

Of key importance is $4 million the governor wants to put in the state's "Sunny Day Fund," an account that is nearly depleted at the moment. This money is used to help lure businesses to Maryland. It has proved its value in recent years. A replenished fund is imperative.

Corrections expenses also take up a big chunk of building money, including detention centers in five jurisdictions and a $40 million down payment on the 1,250-bed prison planned for Cumberland. There is also money in the operating budget to hire 600 guards to open new prison annexes in downtown Baltimore City and in Jessup.

These are essential building blocks for buttressing the state's existing infrastructure. Without such investments, Maryland's future would be bleak indeed.

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