Montgomery executive denies school leaders’ request for capital increase -- Gazette.Net


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The backlog of heating, ventilation and air conditioning projects in Montgomery County Public Schools will have to wait if the County Council follows County Executive Isiah Leggett’s recommendations, which was announced Tuesday.

Citing fiscal restraints, Leggett said he did not recommend amendments to the county’s 2013-2018 Capital Improvement Program that would add $14.2 million to the school system’s already approved $1.35 billion capital plan.

School Superintendent Joshua P. Starr and the Board of Education sent Leggett their request for the projects in November after a series of public hearings. The County Council will review Leggett’s recommendations and finalize amendments in the spring.

The bulk of the request, or $11.5 million, would go to HVAC systems. The rest of the request is for $2.5 million for building parts such as fire alarms, public address systems, water and sewer systems, floors, ceilings, windows and doors as well as $220,000 for boundary and capacity studies for schools.

Starr said in a statement Tuesday he is disappointed, as the small increase would allow the school system to make much-needed infrastructure improvements.

“Many of our HVAC systems are being used well beyond their expected life, and, each year, we are falling further behind in our infrastructure needs as we try to keep up with our growth,” Starr wrote. “We cannot continue to make repairs to systems that are long overdue for replacement.”

The school system is so behind on repairs and replacements for the systems, it would have to spend $28 million per year for the next 10 years to catch up, according to MCPS information released in October.

Despite the urgency, school board President Christopher S. Barclay warned the community in November that the county might not approve the extra funds.

“We have to recognize the possibility of these being pushed back by the executive,” he said in November, adding that several projects have been pushed back in the past five years.

With growing enrollment and aging buildings, the requested improvements are crucial, Barclay said in a statement Tuesday.

“In the coming years, we must maintain and even increase our investment in the capital needs of the school system if we are going to keep up with our growth and provide all students with safe, modern facilities that support a 21st century education,” Barclay said.

Steve Augustino, co-chair of the Capital Improvement Program committee for the Montgomery County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, was also disappointed when reached by phone Tuesday.

“We thought it was a modest and reasonable increase, and we fully supported it,” Augustino said.

Augustino said the organization will do its best to get the County Council to include the request.

Leggett also asked the school system to cut $20 million from its project list each year for budget years 2015 to 2018.

Montgomery College will also be asked to hold off on some projects in those years and cut $5.2 million from each year.

Among the priorities for Montgomery College are the construction of the Bioscience Education Center, the design and construction of the Rockville Student Services Center and the completion of science buildings.

Leggett said he is asking the schools to delay projects just as other agencies are being asked.

It is up to the institutions to make the cuts where they see fit, he said.

In his request, Leggett said he did recommend the County Council approve an appropriation for this school year that would speed up the schedule for upgrades to elementary school security systems. The $364,000 appropriation would make it so the 47 schools that were supposed to receive the upgrades by the end of next year will see them by the end of April. A public hearing is being conducted Feb. 5 for this request.

jbondeson@gazette.net

Staff Writer Kate Alexander contributed to this report.