School budget seeks $33 million for a new Talbott Springs Elementary

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Howard County is moving ahead with a proposal to fund a new Talbott Springs Elementary School despite state school planners challenging the need for a new building.

In a capital budget proposal released earlier this month, schools Superintendent Michael Martirano is looking for nearly $33 million over three years for a replacement school in Columbia.

Martirano is recommending a $89.2 million capital budget for the 2020 budget year, as part of $938 million 10-year master plan for capital improvements, or major construction projects.

The school board approved the proposed budgets Thursday night, but made some changes. In the long range plan it was proposed to build a new middle and high school career development center to replace the existing Applications and Research Laboratory in Ellicott City, the board voted to remove it and instead use funds for a 14th high school and a renovation of Centennial High School, according to Kirsten Coombs, a school board member.

The funding for the Talbott Springs program would include $9.5 million to further planning and begin construction in 2020, $14.2 million in 2021 and $9.8 million in 2022.

The Interagency Commission on School Construction has not committed state funds for the $41.6 million replacement building. The commission, which reviews and approves school construction spending, has said “the most cost-effective solution” is to renovate the 45-year-old Columbia school, rather than construct a new building. Formerly known as the Interagency Committee on School Construction, the commission allocates school construction dollars.

The project has already received $8.1 million, including $2.6 million from County Executive Allan Kittleman’s current capital budget “to start renovation-addition work,” on the school building. The school system has moved leftover funds from other construction projects, including the recently opened Hanover Hills Elementary School, to the Talbott Springs budget line.

The opening of the 540-seat school is slated for September 2022. The school system previously proposed a 620-seat school from kindergarten to fifth-grade, which the commission challenged, asking for school officials “to clarify the apparent discrepancy” between enrollment projections and the intended new building. The state has asked for more information about the “unusual” school boundaries and the proposed foreign language immersion program to be based at the school.

With the state not earmarking the funds, the county has to consider remodeling the school to receive some funding or pay all of the costs for a replacement.

When asked if the county is prepared to pay for a replacement school, Paul Milton a spokesman for the county executive said it’s in “the same spot as before.

“We are still supporting the school system and we are hopeful that the state will come along to approve the school system's appeal to grant the funding,” Milton said.

In May, the commission rejected the school system’s appeal for a share of state funds to build a new school after it earlier determined a renovation was the “most cost-effective solution.”

The state is maintaining its posture in supporting a renovation or addition to the existing building, a spokesman from the state’s Department of Education said.

“It’s hopeful that the school system gets their plan in order so we can review it [and] we can do the best we can do to help the schools,” Milton said.

There are three priority projects in the capital budget for fiscal 2020, including the Talbott Springs replacement, the beginning of construction for the county’s 13th high school in Jessup and the renovation and addition of Hammond High School, the latter two projects slated to be completed in August 2023, according to Brian Bassett, county schools spokesman.

The budget includes funding for two new elementary schools, additions at Dunloggin and Ellicott Mills middle schools, renovations at existing schools and additional funding for the Talbott Springs project.

Construction of four future elementary schools and another high school are proposed in the 10-year plan.

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