The state superintendent of schools is scheduled Thursday evening to visit Spring Ridge Middle School, which was damaged by a fire on April 25 that left five classrooms unusable for the rest of the school year.
State, county and school board officials said last week they wanted to get the school fixed as soon as possible and to accelerate long overdue renovations.
The object of this week’s meeting with state officials, Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) said, is to discuss options to get state financing to get a long-delayed renovation of the school starts as soon as possible.
At Tuesday’s St. Mary’s County commissioners meeting, Commission President Jack Russell (D) said the commissioners reaffirmed a commitment to renovate Spring Ridge and called the fire, which started in a heating and air-conditioning system, a “very unfortunate situation.”
However, he added, “the board of county commissioners in 2009 were denied bond authority by our Southern Maryland delegation” of state lawmakers, when he said set up a chain of events “and pushed out projects we could not finance. When we had to move out these projects, Spring Ridge was one of the projects that had to be moved out,” he said.
The most current county construction budget has $500,000 to get the Spring Ridge renovation in motion in four years, in fiscal 2018, and $5 million more in fiscal 2019. The fiscal 2014 budget starts July 1.
The school superintendent said a renovation to modernize the systems at Spring Ridge is estimated to cost $17.5 million.
In 2009, a different board of St. Mary’s County commissioners, but also with Russell as president, asked the Maryland General Assembly for $25 million in authority to borrow for construction projects. That authority was denied in the 2010 session.
Russell said later Tuesday, “It’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked. It made us rearrange our priorities so we could pay for the projects we had in hand. It’s part of the equation to the deal we’re in now.”
Bohanan on Tuesday cited a letter dated Feb. 11, 2010, that said St. Mary’s County government didn’t need the $25 million in authority at that time anyway, that the commissioners said they had enough borrowing authority to last.
The Maryland General Assembly approved a total of $80 million in borrowing authority in 2003, 2005 and 2008, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
The St. Mary’s County commissioners were granted another $30 million in borrowing authority earlier this year.
“If we held them off in 2010, what happened in 2011 or 2012? They didn’t ask,” Bohanan said. “I am not going to get into finger-pointing,” he said. “Let’s just figure out a way to get this project done.”
Bohanan invited Lillian Lowery, Maryland state superintendent of schools, and David Lever, executive director in charge of public school construction for Maryland, to visit and inspect Spring Ridge Middle School on Thursday. Some of the St. Mary’s County commissioners were invited.
The school opened in September 1974 and hasn’t had a major renovation since, whereas its sister school Leonardtown Middle School, opened in 1975, was renovated two years ago.
Michael Martirano, superintendent of St. Mary’s public schools, was scheduled to give an update about the fire and renovation plans to the school board at its meeting Wednesday morning, May 8.