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School construction


THIS IS A GOLDEN age of school construction and renovation in Anne Arundel County. But new classroom space isn't coming cheaply.

Costs for the 460-student addition at North County High School are projected to rise from the earlier estimate of $12 million to $17.7 million. On top of that, architects made significant changes to enhance security, adding another $476,000 to the project.

Also, Anne Arundel schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham has begun planning the system's 13th high school, in West County, to serve a fast-growing population. The $50,000 allocated for the first planning steps is only a small drop toward the building's estimated $63 million cost.

Dr. Parham's $70 million proposed capital budget for the next fiscal year reflects construction costs that have soared from $117 a square foot to $171 in one year. Officials say this is a contractor's market. The fierce competition for good construction companies during a regional building boom is driving up prices, even beyond the high costs associated with Maryland's new -- and ill-advised -- prevailing wage law.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens delivered on her key campaign promise: to dramatically increase education spending. She has raised teacher salaries, helped reduce some elementary class sizes and has used $40 million in budget surplus money to repair buildings in each of her first two budgets.

The county is paying a heavy price now, but it must move forward to repair county properties and add space for an expanding student population. Roofs, boilers and heating systems aren't luxuries. Neither is classroom space. The price of construction cannot slow down this overdue work.

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