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Baltimore schools get $106 million contract OK, and a grilling

The Board of Public Works approved $106.6 million worth of contracts Wednesday under a $1 billion plan to rebuild or replace aging Baltimore schools — but not before grilling system officials about their management of state money.

The five contracts comprise the second round of work authorized by the board under the system's 21st Century Schools project, which aims to upgrade the city's crumbling school buildings, the oldest in Maryland. The project is in its second year of construction work.

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The work approved Wednesday includes $38.5 million toward the renovation of the Robert Poole building in Hampden, $36.8 million to replace Arundel Elementary in Cherry Hill and $28.4 million to renovate John Eager Howard Elementary in Reservoir Hill.

Two smaller contracts are for construction management and design and engineering for replacement of the Patterson High and Claremont schools in Southeast Baltimore.

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Gov. Larry Hogan, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp voted in favor of the contracts, which were awarded by the Maryland Stadium Authority. The authority is overseeing the bond-financed project under legislation passed by the Assembly in 2013.

But Hogan and Franchot demanded assurances that the money would be well-spent.

Franchot quizzed J. Keith Scroggins, the system's chief operating officer, about a report from the head of the state's Interagency Commission on School Construction that criticized the Baltimore system's management of capital projects.

He demanded to know whether the system had adopted four reforms recommended by commission chief David Lever in 2014 to improve performance, which Franchot called "less than stellar."

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Franchot said Lever reported that the city took an exceptionally long time to complete project contracts and did a poor job of maintaining schools.

"I call it a waste of taxpayer dollars," Franchot said. "This is a deeply troubled school system."

Scroggins told the board the system has been working on implementing each of the reforms, including hiring a director of facilities. He said the findings Franchot cited were "very dated."

"We feel we have made tremendous improvements and taken great steps to make our program an excellent program," he said.

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