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Schools spending targeted


Superintendent Carol S. Parham will give the school board her recommendations for 1996-1997 construction projects Wednesday, but county officials already are saying the $46.5 million proposal must be cut.

"This year we gave them $24.5 million for school construction. And in our spending program for fiscal 1997, we anticipate giving them about $26 million, with most of that money zeroed in for Broadneck and the Meade Area Middle School," said John R. Hammond, the county's financial officer.

But Dr. Parham said she tried to "look at the best way to pay for these projects, and to minimize the impact on county revenues."

"I think it's rather noteworthy that we look at the way it will be funded," she said.

Dr. Parham's spending plan would pay for projects through a $16.9 million bond issue, about $1.4 million in county money, $9.7 million in impact fees, $9.4 million in grants and $9.1 million in developer contributions.

Included in her proposal is $38 million for nine projects and about $8.4 million for items that include roof replacements, a new science lab at Severna Park High School and other small "systemic" projects.

The two big-ticket items on her list are renovations for Broadneck High School, with an estimated cost of $12.7 million, and construction of Meade Area Middle School, expected to cost about $13.6 million.

Her proposal includes money to replace Ridgeway, Jacobsville and Brooklyn Park elementary schools and to renovate Fort Smallwood and Adams Park elementaries.

Despite controversy over whether the school system is designing buildings that exceed student population projections, a $26.2 million project to convert Brooklyn Park Junior-Senior High School into a middle school remains part of the capital budget. Dr. Parham is asking for $1.4 million in design money in the 1996-1997 school year.

The project is part of the so-called North County plan, in which Brooklyn Park and Andover High School will be converted to 900-student middle schools. In recent weeks, it was discovered that Andover, which is nearly complete, will hold about 1,500 students.

School system administrators have noted that Andover's original capacity was 1,527, and its size did not change during the renovations. Brooklyn Park has a capacity of 1,715, and unless its classrooms are reconfigured for 900 students, the result could be 1,400 excess seats for the two schools.

"Just how much capacity are we building?" Mr. Hammond asked. "It's no secret that the numbers that come out of there, well, sometimes you scratch your head and say 'Where do they come from?' "

Ralph Luther, director of facilities management, declined to comment on the capacity issue, saying only that the staff would have a presentation for the board Wednesday to address the matter.

"All that building beyond necessary capacities does is drive a wedge between the school board and the County Council," said County Executive John G. Gary in a recent interview. "How is it to their advantage to have me and the council so suspicious of their numbers?"

In addition to the Andover project, three other designs for schools also exceed the capacity approved by the executive, the council and the state agency that oversees school construction:

* Meade Area Middle School, approved for 800 students, will have a capacity of 1,258, according to school planners.

* Deale Elementary, approved for 300 students, will have a capacity of 347.

"And let's not forget what we went through on South Shore," Mr. Hammond said, referring to another troubled project. "The school system's projections show a 300-student school is OK, but they want to build a 400-seat elementary school?"

tTC School administrators told the County Council last month -- as they asked for more money for the South Shore project -- that if the bids come in low enough, they will try to build the school to hold more than 300 students.

"Remember that the bids came in for South Shore once already, and they weren't low, they were high -- which caused the problem and forced them to come back and ask the council for more money," Mr. Hammond said. "We have a lot of concerns about capacity."

Dr. Parham said her staff is preparing a presentation to address the matter Wednesday.

During the fall, the board will evaluate Dr. Parham's proposal and conduct several public hearings before submitting its version of the construction proposal to the state agency that oversees school construction.

To succeed in getting the approval of the state, the executive and the council for some of the projects, Mr. Hammond said the school board should take the advice of its financial officer, Greg Nourse.

"Yes, I have a bias," Mr. Hammond said. "He is a former employee of mine, but Greg Nourse is the dose of reality out there. They could do a lot right by listening to what he has to say."

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