Rising to the Surface in School Construction

As counties and the State’s 21st Century School Facilities Commission study school construction, a few topics emerge as focal points for change.

At this year’s MACo Conference, Chair of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission, Martin Knott, and MACo’s representative to the Commission, Jan Gardner shared insights into school constuction in a panel moderated by Delegate Maggie McIntosh, Chair of the Appropriations Committee in the Maryland House of Delegates.

This past year, MACo sought strong and smart funding for school construction as a top legislative initiative. MACo represented the interests of counties seeking to expand their school facility capacity for more students, and those in need of funding to update aging infrastructure. For 2017, counties received continued support for school construction in the State budget and are participating in discussions regarding how to make the most effective use of school construction funding.

maggie and martin modern
School construction is one of the most important issues facing the State, as described by Chairwoman McIntosh.

In the session titled, To Boldly Go. . . Toward Better Modern Schools, Delegate McIntosh introduced the subject and gave an overview of the two major statewide studies underway currently, the Study of Adequacy of Funding for Education in the State of Maryland and the 21st Century School Facilities Commission.

Chairman Knott then described the charge of the Commission, and shared feedback from the meetings the Commission has held so far. The Chairman announced that the Commission would continue beyond the date initially set-out for its final report this December, indicating that while the Commission will release a report at that time, there will be more work to be done.

Ideas that are rising to the top of discussion of the Commission, according to Chairman Knott, include:

  • Prototype designs for schools
  • The school construction timeline, including the points at which contractors are involved in the process
  • Value-engineering incentives
  • The State Department of General Services’ involvement with school construction

Knott emphasized his interest in county input into the Commission. As he said,

The rubber hits the road in the counties, at the local level.

County Executive Gardner spoke from the perspective of a county representative on the Commission and also shared information from the work of a Frederick County task force she has charged with reducing school construction costs.

jan modern
“School investment lifts all boats,” County Executive Jan Gardner stated in describing the effect of school construction on families, property values, and businesses.

Gardner began with some background – while the state and the counties have met the school construction investment goals set by the 2004 Kopp Commission on school construction, investments have fallen short of needs because of rising school construction costs.

Gardner shared a several ideas for reform of the school construction program that could create cost savings for counties. A few ideas include:

  • Revise prevailing wage regulations to reduce the paperwork and penalties that scare off small contractors from bidding on projects
  • Create a state standard for green building to reduce the costs and administrative burdens of complying with the LEED program
  • Develop incentives for innovative design and construction and value-engineering, such as allowing local boards of education to share in cost-savings that would otherwise only revert to the State.

Following the presentations, the audience asked questions regarding funding for systemic preventative maintenance, solving workforce shortages, and ways to tie school construction into new infrastructure development.

Both Knott and Gardner invited additional input into the work of the Commission from county governments. To provide suggestions to the Commission, contact Robin Clark at MACo.

The October 13 meeting of the Commission will focus on funding needs.