Boost for a high school


A proposed $70 million capital budget for fiscal 2002 and six-year building plan unveiled yesterday by county schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham shift the focus from repairing older schools to modernization and construction.

The move toward construction includes the superintendent's recommendation to spend $50,000 for planning of a 13th high school that would serve the growing West County area.

Proposed for fiscal year 2003, the allocation is a fraction of the school's estimated $63 million cost, but significant to advocates who have watched the school inch its way up the building priority list for years.

Planning money is the first step for the project to become eligible for state construction funds.

"It's saying this is a project we need to have done and start addressing now," said Cindi Johnston, who chairs the countywide Citizens Advisory Committee and is a longtime advocate for a new West County high school.

"The superintendent has always had a vision for what the needs are, and I hope the board supports her and pushes the projects through," Johnston said.

Parham presented the capital spending plan for fiscal 2002 - which begins July 1, 2001 - at yesterday's Board of Education meeting. It represents an 18 percent decrease over the capital spending for the current fiscal year.

Ralph A. Luther, director of facilities, planning and construction for Anne Arundel schools, noted that the current spending plan includes a $40 million county contribution toward resolving the system's maintenance backlog.

The superintendent highlighted new building initiatives, but also noted the efforts of the past two years to address longstanding maintenance problems in county schools.

The school system has allocated $83 million since 1998 to replace roofs and boilers and carry out other key building improvements at older schools.

Parham has earmarked $17 million for maintenance in her fiscal 2002 capital plan, which must be approved by the school board and the County Council.

"In light of the last two years' support by the county and state, I believe it is prudent and timely to seek a lesser amount [for repair and maintenance] this year," Parham said. "This will allow us to continue to address the growth and modernization needs of our schools without abandoning the maintenance backlog program."

The top construction priority for 2002 is a 460-student addition at North County High School in Ferndale. The cost estimate for the project has risen in the past year from $12 million to $17.7 million.

Parham's budget request of nearly $13 million for the final phase of the addition reflects the added costs. Her budget also includes $3 million for the first phase of a new $10 million physical education facility and upgraded playing fields at the school.

The spending plan allocates $5.9 million for the first phase of a 400-seat expansion at Southern Middle School. Severe crowding there forced Parham to move its eighth grade to Southern High.

The spending plan also includes $2.2 million in planning and construction money for Marley Middle School, pending the results of a feasibility study to determine whether the project will be a new school or a modernization.

Parham's request for $997,000 to plan and design the new Seven Oaks Elementary in West County pushes the school up by a few years on the building priority list.

School officials may need more classroom seats in the area because of a planned expansion of military housing at Fort Meade.

"I want to commend the superintendent for once again boldly coming forward and stating the requirements that need to be addressed in building," said the school board's vice president, Vaughn Brown.

Other construction requests for 2002 include $3 million for replacing Davidsonville Elementary and $1.9 million for Glendale Elementary - both under construction - and $3.1 million for a new Mayo Elementary, a project which is on hold while school officials study an alternative building site.

School officials said that the budget recommendations reflect increased construction costs, which have risen from $117 to $171 per square foot in one year.

The school board has scheduled a public hearing on Parham's recommended budget for 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at its Riva Road headquarters.

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