- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The St. Mary’s County Board of Education is aggressively moving forward with renovation plans for Spring Ridge Middle School in the aftermath of a fire last month that damaged eighth-grade classrooms.
The school board voted Wednesday to amend its capital improvements plan and sent the county commissioners options for accelerating a planned renovation.
Brad Clements, deputy superintendent of schools and operations, said the school system will use the same architect as the Leonardtown Middle School renovation project, which was completed two years ago. Because the two are so similar, he said, time can be saved during the design process.
The school board voted to request a $250,000 allocation from the county for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, to move forward with the design phase immediately.
They also voted to present two options, one of which includes more construction money next year to further accelerate the project. If that happens, construction could begin as soon as April 2014 and be completed by December 2015.
The second option presented would still move forward with the design phase, but defer the start of construction to July 2014 with a completion date in August 2016.
The decision of how quickly to fund the project rests with the commissioners. A majority of the commissioners after the fire said they were interested in accelerating the renovation project.
“We define the long-range needs for the school system” and then present those to the county commissioners in a capital improvements plan, Superintendent Michael Martirano said.
“We’re advancing this now as one of our top priorities,” he said.
The school system had tried for a renovation to the middle school for at least a decade, but it was repeatedly pushed to later years. Currently it is planned to begin in fiscal 2018.
Martirano said the renovation would include a new heating and air-conditioning system throughout the building and other systems upgrades. It would be nearly identical to the renovation completed at Leonardtown, although Martirano would also like to put an addition on the Spring Ridge building to house the county’s middle school science, technology, engineering and mathematics academy.
The superintendent said the entire Spring Ridge renovation would cost about $18 million.
Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) and Commission President Jack Russell (D) attended the meeting and joined the school board at its dais.
“Obviously, this is something we want to jump on and take advantage of” to get the school renovated, Bohanan said.
He said that people in the community “expect us to roll up our shirt sleeves and address this.”
Bohanan said he would do everything he could at the state level to assure the renovation is accelerated, as long as the school board and county can fulfill their end. He planned to tour the school Thursday evening with Lillian Lowery, superintendent of Maryland’s public school, and other officials.
Russell said the community does need to pull together to address the needs of the school. He also said that the project may not get done as fast as everyone wants it.
Before any major renovation to the school, five fire-damaged classrooms need to be repaired (four with lesser damage are already back in use). The fire repairs will be paid for by insurance money and completed by the opening of the next school year in August, Clements said.
“The systems in the school are failing, and we don’t want that to happen again,” board member Mary Washington said. “It’s unfortunate it took this to get us where we need to be.”
Board member Cathy Allen said the school board, commissioners and state legislators need to keep working together to get the school repaired and modernized.
“While this has been a terrible event, it has not been a tragic event,” she said.
Martirano thanked the passerby who spotted the blaze, and said that if the fire had been in the rear of the building, where it would not have been seen as quickly from the highway, there would have been much more damage. Firefighters told him that if the call had came just 10 minutes later the entire school could have been in flames, he said.
“Eventually, our alarm system did go off,” Martirano said.