Up to $94 million sought for school renovations

The Baltimore Sun

With much of the attention in recent years placed on elementary and middle school renovations, Baltimore County school officials indicated they are shifting focus to the high schools as they detailed a proposal during last night's school board meeting to seek as much as $94 million in state school construction funds.

To ease the task of updating what are some of the state's oldest school buildings, county school officials said they are proposing for the first time to do "limited renovations" that would replace vital systems -- such as boilers and windows -- without the expense of an overhaul.

"We can go in and accomplish critical infrastructures immediately," Michael G. Sines, the school system's executive director of facilities, said last night in an interview. "We have 50-year- old buildings that haven't been touched. ... This will allow us to go much faster, much farther, and to go into those high schools in critical need."

Sines said the idea of a "limited renovation program" was championed last year by county schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston and County Executive James T. Smith Jr. Beginning this year, all school systems have the option of seeking funding for projects using this method, he said.

"It's really a common-sense approach," Sines said. "This isn't going in and putting on a Band-Aid and running away. This is putting kids in unquestionably better buildings."

Sines repeated an estimate he mentioned earlier this year -- to attempt complete renovations of the system's 24 high schools would cost more than $1 billion and take until 2033.

"If we were doing full replacement, we would have to cut the list in half," said Sines, referring to last night's proposal for limited renovations of 10 high schools.

The proposal includes a request for $26 million to build an auditorium at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson.

Other high school projects include $26 million to renovate Catonsville High and $1.67 million to renovate the auditorium and gym at Woodlawn High.

Sines said those figures are estimates and could change as a result of feasibility studies.

Other high schools on the list include Sollers Point Technical, Hereford, Kenwood, Parkville, Dundalk and Franklin and Milford Mill Academy.

The proposed construction budget also includes nearly $2 million toward the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system at Loch Raven High School.

To address crowding concerns, additions are proposed for Dogwood, Cedarmere and Hillcrest elementaries, Catonsville Middle and Loch Raven High, county school spokeswoman Kara Calder said in an interview before the board's meeting. No funding is being sought in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1, because the projects are in the planning phase, which the state does not fund.

A proposal to build a school in the Mays Chapel area of Cockeysville for special-education students is another project that "has the potential to relieve capacity" concerns, Calder said.

"This is in the thinking stages," she said. "If we developed the Mays Chapel site and moved students who are currently at the Ridge Ruxton site, that campus could be available" for other uses.

Calder added that Ridge Ruxton, which serves special-needs students from the central area of the county, is not overcrowded.

Also proposed are reimbursements for renovations, roof and window replacements that the county has covered, including $8 million toward the renovation project at Old Court Middle School and $7 million to renovate Cockeysville Middle School.

The county school board has scheduled a public work session for 7 p.m. today in Room 114 of the ESS building on the Greenwood administrative campus, 6901 Charles St., Towson.

Last night's presentation is the first of many public steps in the state construction budget process for the next fiscal year. School board members are scheduled to vote on last night's proposal during an Oct. 2 meeting and must send the system's request to the state by Oct. 5.

The state's school construction committee is expected to set recommended funding levels in November, which is followed by an appeals process. School systems then must adjust their proposals because the state is unable to fund all requests.

Hairston is expected to present a revised proposal to the county school board in December. The board will then vote on that request in January. The General Assembly then sets the state's school construction budget in April or May, and the state Board of Public Works must approve it.


Selected new projects

Highlights among new projects in proposed Baltimore County schools construction budget:

$26 million: George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology auditorium

$26 million: Catonsville High School renovation

$1.67 million: Woodlawn High School auditorium and gym renovation

$1.9 million -- Loch Raven High School heating, ventilation, air conditioning

$1 million: Western Tech High School roof replacement

$2.1 million: Catonsville Middle School addition

For a complete list, go to www.bcps.org/board/agendas/default_2007.htm and click on Exhibit D of last night's meeting agenda materials.

An article in the Maryland section yesterday about the Baltimore County public school system's proposed $94 million construction budget included an imprecise description of a proposed project at the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson. The $26 million for that project would be used for renovations at the school as well as for a new auditorium.The Sun regrets the error.
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