Balto. Co. schools submit wish list $36.8 million sought from state to ease crowding


Seeking to stem school crowding, Baltimore County school officials are asking the state for $36.8 million for the next fiscal year to help pay for building and renovation projects at 19 schools.

Officials also unveiled a tentative six-year capital spending plan last night that would direct more than $310 million to building and improvements through 2002.

The first order of business, according to the priority lists, will be building 5,400 new classroom seats, particularly in the county's strained northwestern section. The longer-range strategy, however, is to turn attention back to older, decaying schools.

By the turn of the century, said school facilities director Gene L. Neff, "We'll have a pretty good fix on providing seats on all levels and we want to then concentrate on fixing up schools."

The wish list for the year beginning next July 1, to be submitted to the state next month, is part of a spending plan that depends not only on state handouts, but on voter approval of an $89.6 million bond referendum on the November ballot.

If history is a proper guide, the bond referendum is likely to pass. But the school system is unlikely to get the full $36.8 million requested from the state for next year. The current year's award of $14.9 million was the second-highest from the state in 20 years.

Sparks Elementary, whose students have been housed in a section of Cockeysville Middle School since a fire destroyed their school in January 1995, tops the priority list for state funds with a request for $2.7 million toward its replacement.

Next in line are Martin Boulevard Elementary, a 70-year-old school that recently earned a spot on the list for a new building, and crowded Franklin Middle and Dulaney and Catonsville high schools.

A sign of the degree of crowding is the number of schools lined up for additions, among them Franklin and Parkville high schools and Mars Estates, Hebbville, Seven Oaks, Franklin and Glyndon elementaries.

But as 2000 approaches, the plan shifts focus toward maintenance, alterations, code updates and roof rehabilitation, though Neff cautions that plans may change with shifting enrollments.

The public is invited to have its say on the plans at 5 p.m. Monday at a hearing at the school system's Greenwood headquarters, at 6901 Charles St.

But much of the spending plan -- the items in the $89.6 million bond referendum -- was locked in place last month as county officials scrambled to meet a deadline for getting construction loans on the general election ballot.

Neff said last night that changes were possible after the public hearing next week, but added: "I can't conceive of how anyone could ask for changes. We've put in an incredible number of expansions that have gone a long way toward pleasing everybody."

The school construction program was turned on its ear last month when Neff and county officials found that costs had been underestimated by $31 million. They drew up a new plan that transferred $23 million from other proposed capital projects and shifted millions already ear- marked for schools away from renovations and into classroom space to forestall high school crowding. A recent study projected severe crowding in the northwestern section.

The changes canceled some projects, including a major renovation of Kenwood High, but added others, such as a $33 million New Town High School to be built in Owings Mills.

Catonsville High School's planned $16.5 million renovation was scaled back to $4 million -- with the $12.5 million difference to be used for a 600-seat addition there.

In other business, the board approved a policy that pledges to strive for 14 percent participation of minority and small business firms in school system contracts.

The policy goes beyond a state law that establishes the 14 percent goal for firms owned by minorities, women and the disabled. The county's new rule requires the school system to report annually on the progress made in achieving its goal.

Pub Date: 9/11/96

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