A week before the long-delayed renovation of Towson High School was to begin, county school officials say the project has been put on hold -- snagged by unexpectedly high bids from contractors.
About $14.7 million in state and county funds is available to modernize Towson High, but the lowest bids came in at $2 million to $4 million more than expected.
Including all options for the project, the lowest bid exceeded $19 million, said Faith Hermann, executive director of facilities.
School officials were "astonished, dumbfounded, shocked" at the bids, said James Kraft, the schools' capital planning manager. "Surprised is a little too mild."
County Councilman Douglas B. Riley, who represents Towson, was upset. "The school department gave me a figure that I relied upon to get the funding," he said. "That figure is not only off, but substantially off."
Shoved aside several times in the past decade, the renovation was resurrected in 1993 when former County Executive Roger B. Hayden designated money for consultant and planning fees. Since then, Towson has topped a long list of capital projects.
Built in 1949, Towson has problems befitting an old building: inadequate heating, drafty windows, outdated electrical system and leaky roof. "We're all convinced that Towson must be modernized," Mr. Kraft said. "The people have waited a long time for it." He said the project may be delayed until spring.
School officials have been meeting with project architects and Towson administrators to find ways to reduce the price without compromising educational needs, Ms. Hermann said.
In part, the price is due to the way the renovation is to be done -- in phases, around the 1,000 students, while the school remains open. "That adds money and adds time," she said, stretching a 20-month project to about 36 months and requiring that plumbing and heating systems remain operable.
But instead of working on the building in five phases, contractors might be able to do it in two, reducing the cost and perhaps making up time, she said.
To do this, the school system would move in as many as 13 portable classrooms to accommodate students displaced by the work.
Students could move out, if they had somewhere to go, Ms. Hermann said. But with enrollments rising, she said, there appears to be little space.