School repairs due, says official

The Baltimore Sun

Mount Hebron High School is likely to be renovated but not replaced when construction begins at the aging facility next summer, according to the chairman of the Howard County Board of Education.

Diane Mikulis said last week in an interview that the cost of the project should not exceed $50 million. A major replacement of the school would cost about $90 million, school system officials have said.

Mikulis made a similar statement on Sept. 14 during a breakfast meeting with elected Howard County officials.

"When asked if I thought that $50 million is the cap, I said, 'Yes, I do,'" Mikulis said of the breakfast meeting. "Nobody [on the board] disagreed with me."

Tomorrow night, the board is expected to approve the fiscal 2009 capital budget, which includes money for work at Mount Hebron. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 at the Board of Education in Ellicott City.

Cindy Ardinger, head of the Help Mount Hebron Committee, said she was surprised by Mikulis' comments.

"I think that there are a lot more details that need to be provided before legislators are told that it is a $50 million project," Ardinger said.

Ardinger's group wants top system officials to do a comparison study of building a replacement school and renovating the existing one that addresses all the deficiencies in the building.

"That is kind of going about it backward," Ardinger said about putting a price tag on the project without determining its scope. "Let's price these deficiencies, and have a public, open discussion."

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin has submitted a $118 million capital budget plan that includes $27 million to partially fund a renovation project at Mount Hebron. Other parts of the plan include $20 million for systemic renovations at three buildings; $13.75 million to add to and renovate the old Cedar Lane School; $12 million to construct a maintenance-warehouse facility; and $6.28 million to add a cafetorium at Elkridge Elementary.

Mikulis would not say whether she thought the board intended to approve Cousin's plan in its entirety. That decision will be made at the meeting, she said.

The scope of the Mount Hebron construction project will be determined this school year, Mikulis said. "We are going to vote on something this year," she said.

Ken Roey, the school system's executive director of facilities and management, said the project likely would be a modified version of a renovation plan favored by Cousin, known as option 2B.

Option 2B would include mechanical upgrades, full systemic renovations and an expansion of the school's art, athletic and administrative offices.

At a board work session Sept. 21, Roey announced that because of a fire-wall problem, he is no longer recommending option 2B.

He said a possible new plan would be to renovate the building and construct two annexes next to it, avoiding the fire-wall problem. One annex would house classrooms, and the other would be used for athletic activities. Breezeways would allow students indoor access to the new structures.

He said that including annexes in a renovation plan would cost less than option 2B.

The Help Mount Hebron Committee sent officials questions last week about the annexes and other aspects of possible work at the school and asked that they be presented at Monday's board meeting.

In the coming months, a planning committee will give input about the scope of construction at the school, Roey said.

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