- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
School officials Wednesday touted the successful first day of school last week while highlighting overcrowded conditions and the need for new elementary and secondary schools.
“Both Evergreen Elementary and Leonardtown Elementary were just filled to the brim,” school board member Cathy Allen said after visiting several schools on the first day Aug. 22.
“I enjoyed seeing the new kindergarten condos, as they have been dubbed,” at Evergreen Elementary School, she said. The school has a capacity for 640 students but enrollment is approaching 750.
It is hard to find a school in St. Mary’s without trailers, which have been given other fanciful names including learning cottages and villas.
The trailers allow for enrollments to build so that new schools can open at capacity. They are sometimes used as regular instruction classrooms, but are also used to house art and music programs.
There are 100 relocatable trailers used at county schools 62 at elementary, 10 at middle and 28 at high schools. This does not count the 32 trailers assembled as an annex behind Benjamin Banneker Elementary School in Loveville, where entire school populations are sometimes taught during construction work.
Kim Howe, coordinating supervisor of capital planning and green schools, said while Evergreen and Leonardtown are over capacity, several schools in northern St. Mary’s need relief even more.
Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School was at 115 percent capacity last year and Mechanicsville Elementary School was at 119 percent; both schools are higher this year, she said.
An expansion at Dent Elementary at one point was planned to be completed in fiscal year 2015. That project does not even appear in the school’s six-year construction plan after being pushed out due to fiscal concerns.
However, two new elementary schools, in addition to the school currently under design for the Hayden farm in Leonardtown, are in the capital improvements plan approved Wednesday by the school board. The school at the Hayden farm is set to open in August 2015; at least one of the other new schools, which are now set to open in 2018 and 2019, would be built north of Leonardtown.
An early childhood center is also set to open next to Evergreen Elementary School, but not until 2021. That project has been delayed four years since it was first introduced.
Another project that has continued to be pushed out over the years is a renovation at Spring Ridge Middle School. In 2008, that project was set to be completed by fiscal year 2014. Now, it will not be finished until seven years later, in fiscal year 2021.
The county’s three other middle schools have already undergone similar renovations. The most recent was Leonardtown Middle, completed last year.
Each time a renovation or new school construction is pushed out, the cost goes up, school officials said.
The state now pays 65 percent of construction costs, down from 75 percent just a few years ago after the formula was revised based on the increase in St. Mary’s County wealth. In addition, the state’s per-square-foot cost of projects has increased.
That combination, coupled with the continued delays in projects, will cost the county millions more in construction costs, school officials said.
Howe said the changes in the state’s share and in construction prices will cost the county about 4.2 million more in the current six-year capital improvements plan.
The county commissioners over the years have asked that some of the projects be delayed because of fiscal concerns.
School officials have gone back and forth over which would be needed sooner, a middle or a high school. Enrollment projections show that there are enough students to fill a new middle and high school in 2019.
The plan approved Wednesday has a new high school set to open in 2021, but no new middle school. Howe said school and county officials will continue to discuss different options regarding the two secondary schools.
“I’m very pleased with where we are,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said Wednesday, adding that he would like to see some of the projects that address capacity issues accelerated.
“Every house developed produces one-half of a child, in terms of planning,” Martirano said, referring to new construction in the county.”We have to move a little quicker on this.”