School Construction Budget Proposal A Setback For Students

Over the last several years, the County Council and our school system administration have spent a considerable amount of time trying to align our six-year Capital Improvement Plan in such a way that we can leverage the maximum amount of state dollars to improve schools throughout our county. Through that collaborative process, one in which the County Executive initially participated, we arrived at a plan that would use the findings of the study done by MGT of America.

That course of action has guided us as we have planned to upgrade our school buildings and provide our 75,000 students with educational atmospheres that will allow them to achieve their full potential. The MGT study documented a $1.5 billion renovation and maintenance backlog in our county, and eradicating it will take years.

We will make progress on that course, however, only by employing a well-thought-out and progressive plan that systematically and smoothly moves projects from one point in the spectrum to another, and does so in a way that continually has several projects in each phase of the study, design, and construction processes. The capital budget proposed by County Executive John R. Leopold and now before the County Council does not do that, and in my view it inexplicably muddles a successful comprehensive construction plan through which, in this difficult year, we received over 10 percent of the statewide school construction budget.

Take, for instance, Point Pleasant Elementary. The project has been fully designed and we even have the state’s permission to bid the project. It is eligible for state funding, and we were prepared to begin the construction process this summer. But this proposed budget pushes that construction back to 2014, by which time construction costs will certainly be higher and we may well have to spend even more money redesigning aspects of the project. Why should we relinquish our place in the queue for state funding for this project?

What does such a move say to the state, which has already begun to ask questions? More locally, what does such a move say to parents at Severna Park High School, which the County Executive has funded for a feasibility study in this proposed budget? If parents at Point Pleasant can see the rug pulled out from under them after similar work has been completed, how can parents at Severna Park have any faith that their project, once started in the study phase, will come to fruition when they envision it?

We are very concerned that this budget proposal sends a message to the state that we simply aren’t committed to a predictable plan to enhance our facilities. There is no question that a child’s educational environment has a direct impact on student achievement.

The difficult economic climate has some positives when it comes to construction. Interest rates are near historic lows, and bids are coming in as much as 30 percent lower than in a normal economic climate. Doing more construction will not only help our students and facilities, but it will put people in our local area back to work, thus producing more revenue.

I believe the County Council shares our frustration, and will do what it can put our capital budget back on the proper course. It would be a shame to watch state construction money go to other jurisdictions while our much-needed projects remain on the sideline.

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