Superintendent sets cooler air as high priority


All 117 Anne Arundel County schools will have air conditioning within two years under a $64 million construction and renovation plan that Superintendent Eric J. Smith will present to the school board today.

The plan, which must be approved by the school board and the County Council, would provide $2 million for window air-conditioning units for 15 schools.

The remaining county schools already have air conditioning or will be getting it this year.

Smith put air conditioning as the No. 2 priority on his list of 34 projects for the fiscal 2004 capital budget.

"It's very difficult to teach in stifling heat," Smith said yesterday. "When you talk about achievement of the school system goals, this is one that has a direct impact."

Parents who have lobbied for years to make their children's schools cool were delighted yesterday to hear the news.

They said their children, sweaty and lacking energy, can't learn in hot schools.

"It just wasn't a productive environment," said Liz League, who has one child at Benfield Elementary in Severna Park. "The teachers suffered, the students suffered and water bottles just didn't cut it."

League said that when she was the school's PTA president last year, she sometimes sprayed kids down on the playground before they went to class.

She said temperatures reached 100 degrees in some classrooms in the 40-year-old school.

"This is such a breakthrough," League said. "This is such a long time coming."

While the money still must be approved by the school board and County Council, both panels approved spending on air conditioning last year and are expected to do so again.

Another significant addition to Smith's capital budget is $250,000 to begin expanding the Mary Moss Academy in Crownsville, an alternative high school for freshmen and sophomores who have had academic and social problems at the county's 12 neighborhood high schools.

Mary Moss has 41 students this year, but can accommodate 65. The expansion would provide space for another 80 students and may allow the school to enroll juniors and seniors, as well.

"We have a number of high-school-aged youngsters who either drop out of school or are expelled, and we want to have an appropriate program so they can finish their high school degree," said Kenneth P. Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction.

"We know we have many additional kids who can benefit from this program."

The expansion would cost $500,000 over two years; funds would be used to renovate a four-story county-owned building adjacent to the current school building.

Smith's spending plan also recommends $7.7 million for the new Seven Oaks Elementary in western Anne Arundel County, near Crofton.

The school is slated to open in the fall of 2005.

Three replacement schools are also high on the priority list and are set to open in 2005: Mayo Elementary, Marley Elementary and Marley Middle.

The total price tag for the 34 projects on Smith's list is $64 million - a number that Smith said is likely to go down as he changes the way schools are built in the county.

He has cut the cost of several schools in the planning stages by 20 percent, and more are to follow.

"We are still working on school costs and trying to make them more affordable," he said.

Last year, the school system requested $70.6 million for building and renovation projects and received $54.4 million.

The school board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at the board headquarters in Annapolis.

The board must approve the budget by February.

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