- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The St. Mary’s school board continued this week to defer what they said were needed school construction projects in response to the county commissioners’ requests to be prudent with public dollars.
Brad Clements, deputy superintendent of schools and operations, outlined to the school board Wednesday several changes made to the schools’ construction plans.
The new elementary school scheduled to open in August 2015 in Leonardtown is still on track, as is a second new elementary school that could open three years later.
Plans for a third new elementary school were pushed back a year (it is now set to open in 2020), as were plans for a new high school, which could open in 2023. Planning for a new middle school no longer appears in the six-year construction schedule, although school officials said that could eventually be put back in based on enrollment projections.
Window replacements scheduled for Ridge and White Marsh elementary schools in fiscal year 2016 were moved back to 2020.
An expansion at Dent Elementary at one point was planned to be completed in fiscal year 2015; that no longer appears in the schools’ six-year plan.
Superintendent Michael Martirano said the new elementary school in Leonardtown is his No. 1 priority, along with the continued expansion of Fairlead Academy, which aims to serve high school students who are at risk of dropping out.
The commissioners last year pulled the plug on a planned $3.2 million expansion of the program that involved a new building next to the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center, Clements said.
Martirano moved ahead with Fairlead Academy II by repurposing a network of trailer classrooms behind the Forrest center, citing the success of the program during the last four years. Next year’s budget includes $1.25 million to expand the program further, although no specifics were given on that expansion.
The school board is requesting $8.4 million in construction money from the county for fiscal year 2014. The bulk of those dollars ($6.35 million) go toward the new elementary school; the county will pay about $14.4 million of the more than $26 million for the school with the rest covered by state funds.
Part of one construction project could now come sooner instead of later. The bleachers at Spring Ridge Middle School are in dire need of replacement and were to be included as part of a major renovation at the school, Clements said. The new plan includes moving $109,000 from the fiscal year 2018 renovation project to fiscal year 2015 to replace the bleachers.
In addition, Clements said, the school system will use about $250,000 from the state’s “aging schools program” to redo the gymnasium floor, paint much of the interior halls, cafeteria and gymnasium, and work on the exterior at Spring Ridge next summer.
“We want to do other things to help move that along,” Clements said of the work needed at the aging school.
In 2008, the Spring Ridge project was set to be completed by fiscal year 2014. Now, it will not be finished until fiscal year 2021.
The county’s three other middle schools have already undergone similar renovations. The most recent was Leonardtown Middle, completed last year.
School board member Mary Washington said she would like to see the Spring Ridge renovation sooner because of the building’s design. The school includes antiquated open pod classrooms, which have been modified but still present challenges to teachers, she said.
The county commissioners in recent years have asked that some of the projects be delayed because of fiscal concerns. However, often when a renovation or new school construction is pushed out, the cost goes up while the need remains the same, 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.
“On one hand I would like to vote against this because our need has not changed,” board member Cathy Allen said.
Allen, who along with the other four school board members eventually voted to forward the capital improvements program to the commissioners, said nearly all of the county’s schools are over capacity and there is a need for new buildings.
“We shouldnt be so far behind the power curve that we have students shoulder to shoulder,” and academic programs have to suffer, she said.
Washington said the economy continues to put constraints on government, even though St. Mary’s County is a prosperous area.
“Everything is still on the books,” she said of the planned construction projects.