Details remain scarce on school construction plan
Wednesday, 18 June 2014 13:40

Sources: details being held until after elections

by Nicole Rodman

    While details on potential county school construction projects remain scarce, multiple sources with knowledge of the process allege that a more specific long-term capital improvement plan will not be released until after the election season has concluded.
    The plan is being held amidst concerns that public outcry over potential school closures and/or consolidations could impact elections, the sources said.
    Plans for new school construction and renovations first came to light after Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz released his fiscal year 2015 budget in April.
    Included in the budget is the “Schools for Our Future” program.

The $1.1 billion program allocates funding for renovations and construction of new schools over the next 10 years.
    The program lays out a number of potential construction projects, including  “a new, 700-seat replacement school for Berkshire Elementary on its current site” and “a new, 700-seat elementary school in the Battle Grove/Charlesmont communities.”
    The lack of concrete information regarding the proposed construction plans has created some confusion and anxiety among area residents.
    While specifics are currently scarce, BCPS says it is working on a draft of a long-term capital improvement plan that will lay out the school system’s construction and renovation plans through 2024.
    According to information posted on the BCPS website in January, “This fall we announced plans to begin the development of a long-term capital improvement plan.
    “GWWO, Inc./Architect was engaged to complete and provide an assessment of all school facilities in BCPS and to formulate a long-term capital plan,” the statement continued.
    The plan included site visits by architects, set to occur last summer.
    During the visits, the architects were to take note of school building conditions, ability to support technological infrastructure and notable building features.
    In addition, surveys were collected from principals at each school.
    According to information on the BCPS website, factors being considered in the development of a long-range capital improvement plan include “population need, equity throughout the county, building condition assessment, site availability, project timeline and other factors ....”
    In remarks to The Eagle, BCPS chief of communications Mychael Dickerson characterized the collaboration between GWWO and the BCPS Office of Physical Facilties not as a “capital plan” but rather as “a working draft assessment of our buildings.”
    “It was simply information gathering for the department as the school system assesses the conditions of our facilities before receiving input from the community in the fall,” Dickerson said.
    However, information on the BCPS website refers to the effort as “a pencil copy of the proposed Capital Improvement Plan.”
    Like the terminology used to describe the project, the timeline for release of the information also remains unclear.
    As BCPS posted online last year, “The overall process is on schedule to complete a pencil copy of the proposed Capital Improvement Plan for initial review by early December, 2013, prior to the public comment period scheduled to begin January, 2014.”
    However, in January the school system decided to extend the timeline for release of the draft plan.
    While an official date has not yet been revealed, the draft is likely to be released in December.
    “We were told that a draft of the 10-year plan will be ready in December,” 5th District Baltimore County Councilman David Marks told The Eagle.
    When pressed for details on the plan, Marks said, “I have not seen anything yet.”
    While Marks noted that a draft of the plan will not be available until December, Dickerson told The Eagle that BCPS “will be going out to the community in the fall for input on a renovation and new construction plan.”
    It is unclear if Dickerson’s remarks indicate that public input meetings would be scheduled before the draft plan is released in December.
    The initial timeline, as indicated on the BCPS website, called for the draft plan to be released a month prior to the start of the public comment period.
    While no specific information has been released regarding the contents of the draft plan, multiple sources familiar with the process have indicated that school closures and/or consolidations are likely.
    The release of the report, the sources alleged, is timed to occur after election season.
    Del. John Olszewski Jr. indicated that he has not seen any plans.
    “I have not gotten any sense of whether consolidation or closures will be a part of the plan,” Del. Olszewski explained.
    He did note, however, that “anything that is going to happen needs to be done with community input and buy-in.”
    Regarding a release date for the plan, Del. Olszewski said, “As soon as that document is available I would expect it to be made available to the public.”
    Councilman John Olszewski Sr. did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
    When asked for comment, Fronda Cohen, spokeswoman for County Executive Kamenetz, referred The Eagle to BCPS spokesman Mychael Dickerson.