The Howard County Board of Education unanimously approved last night a capital budget plan that includes funds for a new northeastern elementary school, a previously approved Fulton area high school that would open in 2002, and additions and renovations to existing schools.
Superintendent Michael E. Hickey had proposed a $51 million building plan for fiscal year 2001, and the board made changes that increased it to $53.6 million.
The proposal will go to the state Interagency Commission for School Construction for approval.
The increase reflects the board moving up the completion date of a new middle school in western Howard County from 2004 to 2003; doubling the $500,000 technology equalization plan -- adding more computers to needy schools -- to $1 million; and allocating $1 million in planning funds for a new northeast area elementary school in fiscal 2001 instead of fiscal 2002.
The move will not speed up the scheduled 2003 completion of the school despite requests from parents. Many schools in the northeast area are suffering from severe crowding because of the community's growth.
Associate Superintendent Sydney Cousin said the administration recognized the need for another elementary school to relieve crowding, but said moving the construction up would be difficult, since the district has not begun looking for a site.
"We can build a school in 12 to 13 months," Cousin said. "We've done it before. But is it practical to do that even if the county could afford it? We would be hard pressed to meet that schedule. It's not impossible. But it's not very practical to plan that way."
Ellicott City resident Courtney Watson, whose two children attend the crowded Ilchester Elementary School, was disappointed with the board's decision not to speed up the schedule for building the northeast area school.
Still, she said she was "confident that the board will work with the community to provide extraordinary measures of support for the northeast in the interim," such as providing administrative help at large schools and extra money for educational materials.
The board discussed possibly adding portable classrooms to Ilchester and moving kindergarten classes to other schools while the new school is being built.
The crowding in the northeast and other growing areas of the county prompted the school district in recent months to discuss a general redrawing of district lines to move students from crowded schools into older neighborhood schools that are less populated.
The discussions proved controversial when parents protested moving children from their neighborhood schools. And because the district reduced class sizes and eliminated many seats needed for redistricting, administrators have discussed holding off on such a plan until 2003.
But board Chairwoman Karen B. Campbell said the school board has not made any decisions on how to alleviate crowding and is considering all feasible options, including redistricting.
The school board also approved Hickey's five-year, $139.2 million capital plan for 2002 to 2006. Hickey had proposed about $1 million less but the board made changes that increased the amount.
The proposed capital budget for 2001 includes funding for renovations and additions to Centennial High School, $6.4 million; Atholton High School, $295,000; Pointers Run Elementary, $1.4 million; Forest Ridge Elementary, $1.1 million; Hollifield Station Elementary, $199,000; Clarksville Elementary, $312,000; and $872,000 for equipment at Ellicott Mills Middle School, which is being overhauled.
Under the proposal, almost $7 million would be used to construct an Alternative Learning Center for some of the county's most troubled students. Some community members suggested postponing the construction to free up money to ease elementary and middle school crowding, but board members shot down that idea.
County Executive James N. Robey had balked at Hickey's original $51 million proposal, but at last night's meeting, Cousin said the county would be responsible for less than half the money -- about $21 million.