Interagency Committee on School Construction Executive Director David Lever provided his annual update on public school construction issues to the MACo Legislative Committee on February 17. Dr. Lever indicated that for the third straight fiscal year in a row, both the number of project requests and the dollar value of the requests decreased. FY 2011 submitted needs were $722.1 million and available funding was $256 million ($250 million in Governor Martin O’Malley’s FY 2011 budget plus $6 million in unneeded funds that reverted from other school construction projects). He attributed the decline in need to reduced local revenues, a continuing decrease in construction costs, and changes in student enrollment. He also explained that the State’s minimum annual funding target of $250 million, recommended by the Task Force to Study Public School Facilities in 2004, was set to expire soon and there needed to be discussion on whether to set a new goal.
He noted the following general trends in the FY 2011 Capital Improvement Program regarding school construction: (1) older facilities built in the 1960s and 1970s are reaching the end of their working life and need either major renovation or replacement; (2) slowed population growth in some counties allows increased attention to renovation of existing schools; and (3) the economic downturn has created a very unstable enrollment picture, with some counties losing students and other counties gaining students.
Dr. Lever also highlighted several new school construction issues, including: (1) the requirement that new schools must be high performance buildings (LEED Silver certification or equivalent); (2) school construction projects must now meet additional minority business enterprise participation requirements in order to qualify for State funding; (3) the impact of federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) decisions on enrollment patterns is still uncertain, creating planning difficulties; and (4) the synchronization of the school construction program to Smart Growth principles (locating new schools within Priority Funding Areas, focusing on compact or vertical school designs, etc.).