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Before part of Spring Ridge Middle School caught on fire April 25 last year, it was already overdue for a renovation. The school had not been overhauled since it opened in September 1974, a month after Gerald Ford became president.

Officials celebrated the start of its $25 million renovation Tuesday afternoon at the school in southern Lexington Park.

The fire that broke out last year was blamed on the school’s aging air-conditioning system. Nine classrooms were damaged in the blaze. The next day, a Friday, there was no school and by “Monday morning we opened on time with a lot of hard work,” said Brad Clements, deputy superintendent of schools and operations. Insurance paid for the school’s repairs that summer, but a renovation for the rest of Spring Ridge was still four years away at that point.

Leonardtown Middle School, which opened in 1975 and was built to the same design, had already been renovated for $14.7 million.

After the fire at Spring Ridge, “I looked at the records. This school was overdue. We should have done this project before we did,” Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) said.

The St. Mary’s County commissioners put up $9.9 million in cash in the current budget to get the renovation going. “That surely was the catalyst that helped,” Clements said.

“It was a miracle how quickly the community came together” after the fire, Superintendent Michael Martirano said.

“Had it not been for the county commissioners forward funding $10 million ... this project right now would not be occurring,” he said.

After the ceremony, Commissioner Dan Morris (R) said, “I’m glad that this board jumped in and did what it had to do right away.”

In addition to the Spring Ridge renovation, construction has started on a new elementary school in Leonardtown — the Capt. Walter Francis Duke Elementary School, a $27 million project, scheduled to open in August 2015.

Martirano said that is “$50 million in play” between the two schools. State funding helps pay the cost of school construction.

“Those were the highlights of my career,” Morris said afterward of those two schools, along with the $3 million county government used to clean up after Hurricane Irene in 2011. Morris became a county commissioner in 2010 and is not seeking re-election.

Spring Ridge is the last public middle school in St. Mary’s County to be renovated, Martirano said. The three high schools, Great Mills, Chopticon and Leonardtown, were renovated, as were Leonardtown, Margaret Brent and Esperanza middle schools — a total investment of $160 million during the last 20 years, Clements said.

There are still a few more elementary schools that need to be renovated, Martirano said.

J. Vinton Schaefer and Sons won the $20.9 million construction bid to renovate Spring Ridge, which does not include the costs associated with design, engineering and equipment for the project. The renovation will replace the heating and air-conditioning system, the ceiling, lighting, security systems, lockers, modernize the media center and add a central sprinkler system. The STEM program for science, technology, engineering and math will get its own 5,000-square-foot wing.

Other school space will be reconfigured and the student capacity will increase from 954 to about 1,147, Clements said. Work is scheduled to begin in July and should be completed by August 2016. Five new relocatable classroom units will be brought in to house some students while work is underway.

jbabcock@somdnews.com