Different Angles on a New State School Construction Program

Several ideas were raised by Commissioners and local governments testifying before the 21st Century School Facilities Commission today on what to change, and what to keep, about the state school construction program.

In a letter to the State Superintendent, Martin Knott, Chair of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission stated,

“. . . the IAC may undergo changes in the very near future, changes that the Commission believe will improve the IAC as an independent organization and the school construction review and approval process.”-Martin Knott, Chair of the 21st Century School Facilities Commission

He restated this intent today at a meeting of the Commission in Annapolis, outlining a plan to provide recommendations on the Interagency Committee on School Construction to the General Assembly this December.

One of the first to testify before the Commission at today’s meeting was the Maryland Secretary of Planning, Wendi Peters. Possibly in response to comments made at a previous meeting questioning whether or not the Planning Department needed a voting seat on the Interagency Committee on School Construction, the Secretary made clear her desire to maintain a voting position,

“We would respectfully request that as you consider the structure of the IAC, going forward, that you also carefully consider the unique training and the experience that Planning brings to the table, and maintain Planning’s role, not just as a consultant, but as a voting member in the decision-making process.”-Secretary of Planning Wendi Peters

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz submitted testimony recommending the state distribute school construction funding in a block grant format to improve the efficiency of the program and the ability of local jurisdictions to meet market conditions. From his testimony,

State School Construction Funds should be distributed to the counties in the form of a block grant. The funding distribution formula can be developed using specific, equitable guidelines and local jurisdictions will be bale to use up to their current maximum State percentage for total project costs. Projects can be required to continue to adhere to IAC policies and could be audited for compliance.

Commissioner Barbara Hoffman, who is also a member of the Interagency Committee on School Construction raised the idea of differentiation between counties, that the IAC’s review process might differ depending on a local school system’s ability to manage and review its own school construction projects.

“I’m very interested in the concept of differentiation. One of the reasons why we’re looking at the structure of the Public School Construction Program and the IAC is that the counties are very different one from the another–some have much more capacity to do things themselves than others.” – Commissioner Barbara Hoffman

Frederick County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Ray Barnes suggested a possible new direction for the State’s Public School Construction Program, with a focus on research and development rather than plan review,

A concentration on research and development would. . . be a useful focus for a State Agency like the Public School Construction Program. They could engage in research on new technologies in HVAC systems, less expensive approaches to construction methods, trending data on the impact of instructional technology on classroom design, options to the LEEDs program for meeting the [State’s] energy performance requirement, etc.  In order to do this they would need to re-purpose their mission from what it is now, provide equity among school facilities throughout the State to include something like:  Research emerging trends in design and construction to provide cost effective schools for Maryland students.


From L-R, Dorchester County School Facilities Manager Chris Hague, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, Calvert County School Construction Director George Leah, and Frederick County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer Ray Barnes testify before the 21st Century School Facilities Commission.

For more information, see the video of the hearing, and check the General Assembly website for testimony and other materials.