Yesterday the state Board of Public Works approved $264 million for school construction throughout the state, however both Charles and Wicomico counties have already requested a delay in new building construction until they can determine if they are able to come up with the remaining funding needed to finish and operate the schools. The Baltimore Sun reports:
“We’ve never dealt with anything like this before, where we’ve come to this sort of crisis point,” David G. Lever, director of the state’s Public School Construction Program, said of the requests by Charles and Wicomico counties. “It’s a real bellwether of the economy.”
Charles County officials have asked the state for another 120 days to decide whether they can accept $6.8 million in state money to build what was to be a huge, state-of-the-art high school in Waldorf. The county commissioners aren’t sure if they will have the tax base to operate the planned St. Charles High School, a project in which the state has already invested $3.5 million and the county $8 million.
A new middle school in Wicomico County, which had been set to receive $5.2 million in state money Wednesday, is also on hold. The County Council voted in March to delay construction on the new Bennett Middle School in Fruitland for a year. With the county’s capital money off the table, Wicomico officials withdrew their request for state funds.
The new schools in Charles and Wicomico are each expected to cost about $70 million to build. Officials in the two counties say they want to resume construction at some point and are scrambling to find money.
Candice Quinn Kelly, president of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, appeared before the Board of Public Works on Wednesday to assure members that the money the state had already invested wouldn’t go to waste.
“We’re committed to this school,” Kelly said. When it is finally built, she said, “it will make you proud.”
However, elected officials are not sure where they are going to find the money to run it, Kelly said. Charles County’s operating budget for next year has a $7 million hole in it. She said commissioners might need to consider increasing taxes.
Wicomico County Executive Richard M. Pollitt Jr. also said he intends “to continue to search for ways to reduce the cost of the new school in a manner that does not compromise the quality of its education project.”
This year, the state approved funding for construction or planning of 18 replacement schools. There are roughly 1,400 public schools across Maryland.