School system gets final go-ahead for turf fields

ANNAPOLIS — The state Board of Public Works Wednesday approved the county school system's proposal to spend $4 million in state funds on turf fields, a roofing project and renovations to an art and music suite.

The board's approval is the final clearance the school system needs to begin the projects, which are being paid for with earmarked funds from a 50 percent increase in the state alcohol tax that took effect July 1.

The approved projects include: $2 million for turf fields at Atholton and Hammond High Schools, both in Columbia, $1.75 million to replace the 26-year-old roof at Dunloggin Middle School in Ellicott City; and $250,000 to refurbish the art and music suite at Wilde Lake Middle School in Columbia.

This is the second time the school system has had to go before the Board of Public Works to get approval for their plans to spend the alcohol tax money. In October, the school system asked to spend the money on the turf fields, refurbishing the art and music suite, as well as various renovations and improvements at Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake high schools, both in Columbia.

The Board of Public Works approved the school system's initial request, but the Howard County Board of Education would not sign off on the projects.

"The problem with the original list very simply was the board wasn't a part of that (selection) process," school board member Frank Aquino said.

After holding a public hearing, the board decided to switch out the Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake high school renovation projects for the roof replacement at Dunloggin.

Board member Cindy Vaillancourt said the other projects will be funded soon, but the roofing project was selected because it is a big chunk of money that would be hard to carve space for in the normal budgeting process.

Superintendent Sydney Cousin, accompanied by school system officials and school board members, presented the new list of projects to the Board of Public Works on Wednesday. The board, which is comprised of Gov.Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, approved the new request, but not without making sure Howard County was sure about how it wanted to spend its share of the alcohol tax funds.

"I just want to make sure you that you all think that the two turf fields are priority projects … more important than classrooms," Franchot said.

Kopp noted that "others have wondered offhand about the turf fields."

After Cousin assured board members that the turf fields are a priority for the county, the board unanimously signed off on the request.

"Other projects that may not have made that list are slated to be handled during the operating and capital budget cycles," Aquino said.

School officials hope to have the turf fields installed this summer.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad