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$19 million more asked by schools


Howard County school officials will release a capital budget tomorrow for the 2001-2002 school year that is $19 million more than last year's spending plan and includes, surprisingly, a 12th high school set to open in 2004.

At $69.5 million, Superintendent John O'Rourke's proposed 2002 capital budget is about $16 million more than last year's school board proposal of $53.6 million. The County Council funded $50.6 million of that.

The need for a big increase is largely out of school officials' control, said Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations.

Construction costs have increased by 16 percent, Cousin said, causing the same projects listed in last year's budget plan to be about $8 million more next year.

The new northeast elementary school, scheduled to open in 2003, was listed as costing $10,051,000 in last year's budget. The 2002 capital budget now lists it at $10,841,000.

"A lot of [the increase] is just inflationary costs," Cousin said. "This is just how much it costs to build schools. We don't really have any additional projects."

In fact, the only new project is the 12th high school, which county residents have begun lobbying board members to consider building. About $4 million is included in the budget for planning the school.

The high school is to be built somewhere west of U.S. 29, where the student population is growing, Cousin said. He said it is too early to be more specific about its location.

Maurice F. Kalin, associate superintendent for planning and support services, said it also is possible that the high school could be built in the crowded northeast area, depending on community input and further study.

The district has yet to lay a brick at the site of newly named Reservoir High School in Fulton, which will be high school No. 11 when it opens in 2002. But enrollment projections show that there will be more high school students than the county has room for, even after Reservoir is filled to capacity.

"This 12th high school is necessary because our projected over-capacity [for high school students] is in the 2,100 range by the year 2011," Kalin said. "Even with the new [12th] high school, we'll still be 700 over capacity."

County Executive James N. Robey said the budget proposal is $15 million more than he anticipated and will be a challenge to fund. He added that a 12th high school was "not on the radar screen a year ago" but seems to address a real need in the county. He said he looks forward to working with O'Rourke in an attempt to find money for it.

The two Republican county councilmen, Allan H. Kittleman and Christopher J. Merdon, said yesterday that they support a 12th high school despite the rising costs.

But Council Chairwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, was more cautious.

"I have got to see some really convincing numbers and some more detail," Lorsung said.

Lorsung said she was under the impression that the shortage of seats that would persist after building Reservoir High School would last only a short time because high school enrollments are expected to level off in the next several years.

Kalin said high school enrollments are projected to continue climbing.

Other costs included in the proposed budget are:

Construction and equipment costs for Reservoir High School - $12.6 million.

Maintenance and upkeep work at eight schools - $9.3 million.

Equipment for the Alternative Learning Center - $739,000.

Construction costs for the new western middle school - $13.8 million.

Technology equalization increases - $500,000.

Replacement playground equipment - $180,000.

Additions and renovations at Hollifield Station, Clarksville and Fulton elementary schools; Patapsco Middle School; and Atholton and Howard high schools - $12.2 million.

Cousin said the projects listed are required to meet the needs of the growing, aging, changing school system.

"This is simply a reflection of our needs and a projection of our projects," Cousin said. "They address equity issues. This is what people in the community and the school system asked for."

Sandra H. French, board chairman, said the panel had not met as a group to discuss the budget, but that she personally supports the requests.

"It is a large budget," she said. "But I think it is a responsive budget and a responsible budget. It responds to the needs of the community. It responds to our educational needs and it responds to the people who have been asking for greater attention paid to the older schools. You're not going to see this person trying to take anything out."

The school board will discuss the superintendent's budget proposal at tomorrow night's meeting. A public hearing on the proposal will be held at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Board of Education building in Ellicott City. The board will submit suggestions and revisions in February. The county executive and County Council approve the district's budget.

Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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