Weast seeks $1.7 billion for school construction

Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2005

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To read more, see What’s being built where

A $1.17 billion, six-year school construction plan would add one new high school and six new elementary schools over the next two years.

Under the plan, submitted by Superintendent Jerry D. Weast, the school system will open three new schools in the upcounty in August: Clarksburg Area High School, Clarksburg⁄Damascus Elementary School No. 7 and Northwest Elementary School No. 7 in Germantown.

Two Silver Spring schools will open in August in reopened, renovated facilities. The former Connecticut Park Center will reopen as Downcounty Consortium Elementary School No. 27, and Brookview Elementary School will reopen as Northeast Consortium Elementary School No. 16.

In August 2007, the former Arcola Elementary School in Silver Spring would reopen as Downcounty Consortium Elementary School No. 28, and a replacement for Seven Locks Elementary School would open in Bethesda.

In an Oct. 28 memo to the school board, Weast said enrollment is expected to be flat in 2006-2007 after rising for the past two years. He cited increasing construction materials costs for the proposed $239 million increase over the previous six-year plan.

‘‘The benefits of the limited growth in enrollment are offset by increased construction costs,” Weast wrote. ‘‘Cost increases are primarily due to a global demand for metal products, concrete and other materials used in construction.”

Planners see the enrollment slowdown as a chance to reduce the school system’s number of portable classrooms. This year 17,000 students are attending classes in 719 portables. About 140,000 students attend county schools.

‘‘We think we’ve got a better shot at [reducing the number of portables] because enrollment’s kind of leveling now,” said Bruce H. Crispell, the school system’s planning director.

Weast’s recommendation includes a request for $117.9 million in state aid for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In a Sept. 16 letter to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), state and county elected officials, including county executives from Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the mayor of Baltimore, endorsed spending $400 million in state money for school construction. Supporters say a projected $1 billion state budget surplus makes what would be a 60 percent increase over this year’s state spending feasible.

To learn more
Go to click here or call 301-279-3333.
*The school board will hold a work session at 7:30 p.m. today in the Carver Educational Services Center at 850 Hungerford Drive in Rockville.
*Public hearings are set for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9 and 10 in the Carver Center auditorium. Speakers must register; call 301-279-3617. The hearings will be televised on county cable Channel 34.
*The board will vote on the building budget and boundaries for Clarksburg Area High School, Northeast Consortium Elementary School No. 16 and Northwest Elementary School No. 7 at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17.
*To read the boundary recommendations, click here or call 301-279-3333.
Weast warned that while $84.7 million in projects have been approved by the County Council, they will not be eligible for state money until the state gives planning approval.

‘‘If the state continues its practice of granting only one or two planning approvals for each school system, it is likely that MCPS will receive funding only for projects that currently have state planning approval,” he wrote. ‘‘In this case, MCPS can expect to receive no more than $33.2 million.”

That means, he continued, that the county would have to come up with the needed money or projects would be delayed.

The six-year plan also calls for the formation of a committee to select a site for a new midcounty high school that would relieve overcrowding at Gaithersburg, Quince Orchard, Northwest and Thomas S. Wootton high schools.

Weast’s proposal must be approved by the county school board, which then forwards it to the County Council, which makes the final decision on budgets.