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Funding included for new Northern High School building

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

The board of education is requesting a $6.6 million capital improvement project budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Last week, Julie Paluda, capital projects analyst for the Calvert County Department of Finance and Budget, and George Leah, the Calvert County Public Schools director of school construction, presented the Calvert County commissioners with the Calvert County Board of Education’s $6,616,747 capital improvement plan budget for fiscal 2015.

The request includes the construction of a new Northern High School, a roof replacement at Sunderland Elementary, fire suppression and interior work at Mutual Elementary and a forcemain at Huntingtown High School. The total budget request reflects $3,962,950 and $2,653,797 of county and state funding, respectively.

“The whole [Northern High School] campus is going to change,” Leah told the commissioners. Parking areas, sight distance along Chaneyville Road and student drop-off locations all are going to be changed for the entire campus, he said.

Construction is expected to begin in April 2015, Leah told the commissioners. Right now, the project is still in the planning and engineering phases and is expected to continue through 2014, he said.

The new school will be built as a standalone building behind the existing high school, and Leah said he expects that to take about 26 to 28 months. Once the new school is constructed, the old, existing school building will be demolished.

The first phase of the three-phase project will be to construct the new geothermal school building and parking, and other issues will be addressed in the second phase, Leah said. The goal of the new building, he said, is to achieve Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification. It would be CCPS’ first LEED-certified school building.

The estimated total cost of the school construction project is $67.7 million, according to the presentation. The $2,187,000 project total increase from previous years, Paluda said, will be completely funded by the state. Paluda said the state will front fund its portion in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 and then reduce its funding levels in fiscal years 2018 and 2019 to better align with the construction timeline. In previous fiscal years, the county appropriated $2,700,000 for engineering and planning of a new Northern High School.

At Mutual, the BOE is requesting the remaining state funding ($355,497) for the completion of the second phase of fire suppression and interior work.

For the roof replacement at Sunderland Elementary, budgeted at $461,250, the county is anticipating to fund 43 percent of the project and the state to fund the remaining 57 percent.

The county is budgeting $800,000 for the construction of a sewer line that will run from Huntingtown High School to the Marley Run Waste Water Treatment Plant.

“This project will address ongoing operational and regulatory concerns at this current standalone plant,” Paluda said during the presentation.

During the presentation, Paluda showed two graphs demonstrating the county’s general obligation debt service as a percentage of the county’s general fund revenue during the next six-year CIP budget. The county’s debt affordability threshold is 9.5 percent.

One graph included income from the Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas facility should the proposed expansion project move forward. In this graph, there is an increase in the county’s debt affordability model beginning in fiscal 2015, peaking at 9.2 percent in fiscal 2017, and decreasing in fiscal 2018 to 8.2 percent — the time when the county expects to receive increased tax revenue from Dominion.

The other graph shows what the county’s financial situation would be without Dominion’s proposed tax revenue. This graph also shows an increase in the county’s debt affordability model, beginning in fiscal 2015, but peaks in fiscal 2019 at 10 percent. In fiscal 2020, there is some decrease, and the county’s debt affordability reaches 9.6 percent.

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said, “This projects an unfavorable expense as you go forward without Dominion’s influx of revenue for the county. And along that line … if Dominion’s export, for whatever reason, does not occur, how much jeopardy is Northern High School project in completion, or is it that we’ll be in position that we’ll have to complete the project and other things in the county will suffer because of funding?”

Paluda said finance and budget staff is working with other county departments to prioritize capital improvement projects to be presented to the commissioners in the spring.

“I can confidently say that [the debt affordability model for fiscal 2015] won’t be exactly what it looks like in the spring. We’ll also, by then, have been notified what will happen with Dominion, and that would be the proper time to answer that question.”

Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said, in the spring, if the Dominion project is approved, “it doesn’t give us any more self-assurance” until construction begins and the first export takes place and “we get the first check. That’s when we start realizing the revenue’s safe, and it’s a safe stream.”

ascott@somdnews.com