Back to the Future on School Construction

The former Maryland Planning Secretary testifies before a Commission seeking to modernize the State’s school construction program.

At this week’s meeting of the the 21st Century School Facilities Commission, the Commission heard testimony today from former Secretary of Planning, Rich Hall.

During this presentation, Hall emphasized the value of the current system of school construction project review by the State. He pointed to the way that collaboration between staff at several state agencies has built institutional knowledge and a history of collective experience that informs the review process.

Following his presentation, the State Treasurer, a member of the Commission, asked Hall to describe the Planning Department’s role in the school construction review process.

Hall summarized the Planning Department role as:

  • Providing enrollment projections
  • Raising adjacency issues of schools close to other schools
  • Sharing how location relates to growth policies and zoning
  • Checking if there are sufficient utilities to support the new school
  • Advocating that LEED silver requirements be applied to schools
  • Raising broader concerns such as sea level rise, community needs, and student safety

Commissioner Bohanan, a current member of the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC), asked Hall to give his perspective on whether the role of Department of Planning on the IAC, is of a technical or a policy advisory-nature. Hall stated that the review of the IAC was primarily technical, describing interactions that were collegial and votes that were rarely controversial.

Commissioner Barbara Hoffman, also a current member of the IAC, asked at what point the state’s project review occurs, stating that it seems that by the time the IAC is involved, the local school system is already down the road with planning.

Commissioner Richard Reznick asked if there is overlap between research at IAC and research done at the local level. Hall stated that it is possible that the vertical collaboration could be advanced.

Chairman Knott asked if the Planning Department needs a vote on the IAC, to which Hall responded, no, as long as the technical concerns and input of the Department are being considered and defended.

Commissioner Jones, Chair of the House Capital Budget Subcommittee, asked about the role of the Board of Public Works. Hall stated that the Board is an important part of the process, but that in this eight years on the IAC, there was very limited policy issue involvement from the Board. He stated that given his knowledge of the consistent and rule-driven process of the IAC, it was painful to read about the air conditioning debate in the news.

Commissioner Gardner, Frederick County Executive, raised that counties are aware that the State is only going to contribute funding for schools built in a priority funding areas, and if a county chooses to build outside of a priority funding area, they do so at the risk of paying the whole cost of the school.

For more information about this week’s meeting of the School Facilities Commission, see the meeting materials or watch the video of the October 13th meeting in the Appropriations Committee on the Maryland General Assembly website.