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School board OKs talks on construction Panel agrees to meet Gary to discuss shift of building duties; Public works would step in; Education panelists doubt that county could do better job


Anne Arundel County school board members, confronted with a string of construction debacles, say they will meet with County Executive John G. Gary to discuss his offer to have the public works department take over the joheir own problems that cost taxpayers $7.5 million.

Lisa Ritter, a county spokeswoman, said yesterday that the board's decision is "a step in the right direction" that would result in a "savings for taxpayers through consolidation."

The board agreed to the meeting with Mr. Gary late Wednesday after meeting with the school construction staff to discuss the proposed $46.5 million building budget for next year.

"I guess anything is worth listening to," said board member Thomas R. Twombly. "I know we're doing a poor job, but I'm not sure they can do better. I think our problems can be fixed. And before we go off running around willy-nilly, we need to do a total assessment of the entire situation."

The school system's construction division was criticized last month after it was revealed that several schools were designed to be larger than their approved sizes, resulting in excess seating capacity. In one case, a school was designed to have less seating capacity than it needs.

In addition, several projects will cost more than estimated: $1 million more each for Broadneck High School renovation and construction of a new Park Elementary to replace an aging building.

Joseph H. Foster, the school board president, said the impression of what has happened has been more damaging than reality, despite delays on some projects.

"There's been an impression created that there was negligence on the part of people in the construction department that has cost the taxpayers money, and I don't believe that's true," Mr. Foster said.

"The figures you've mentioned were differences between estimates and the actual costs, or revisions in estimates. I'm not saying the process has gone smoothly, but I do think that whatever's wrong can be fixed, and we are fixing it."

He said the school system's biggest problem is a lack of documentation to show how or why the staff made some construction decisions.

"No, I don't think criticism has been unfair," Mr. Foster said. "But I think lack of documentation has been a continuing problem and that the staff has not reacted quickly enough when a problem occurred, and they didn't act in such a way that the problem didn't recur.

"In other words, they didn't learn from their mistakes."

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