Friday, June 27, 2008

Board approves new headquarters

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The county school board Thursday narrowly approved a controversial plan by a vote of 6-4 to lease office space in Upper Marlboro to house the school system's headquarters - with a price tag of about $36 million over 10 years.

The facility, located on Presidential Parkway in Upper Marlboro, is about seven miles from the school system's current headquarters on School Lane in Upper Marlboro. It will house more than 1,000 school employees in 212,558 square feet of office space, according to the resolution.

School board chairwoman Verjeana M. Jacobs (At-large), who voted for the proposal, said that the move could be a ‘‘nightmare” politically for board members, given that the school system faces increasingly difficult economic conditions, but she said it was board members' job to educate the public on why they made their decision.

Proponents of the agreement said it would be cost-neutral, or even save money, by consolidating other facilities into one building and ending leases at other buildings.

Opponents said the board should be focusing on spending its dollars to improve school facilities, not working conditions for school employees.

‘‘If we have to come up with a decision based on what looks nice and what we should have for adults, adults are only here for a short period of time. They're here interviewing or working at a desk. I'm sure every single person looks at this system and says children come first,” said board member Linda Thorton Thomas (Dist. 4), referring to the prioritizing of students' needs over adults.

The 10-year agreement would begin with $3.15 million annual rent, which would increase incrementally to $4.1 million. The agreement includes an option to purchase the facility.

The central offices of the school system, including those located at the current Sasscer Administration Building, will be moved over time to the new facility.

In addition to Jacobs, board members Ron L. Watson (At-large), Pat Fletcher (Dist. 3), Heather Iliff (Dist. 2), Rosalind A. Johnson (Dist. 1), and R. Owen Johnson, Jr. (Dist. 5), voted in favor of the measure. Board members Donna Hathaway Beck (At-Large), Amber Waller (At-Large), Thorton Thomas and student board member Haywood L. Perry, III voted against the proposal.

E-mail Megan King at mking@gazette.net.