Pack It In – Proposal Seeks To Increase Efficiency And Provide Flexibility In School Construction

Staff to the Interagency Commission on School Construction reach out to county governments and other stakeholders for input into recommendations to an upcoming work group on school construction.

The recommendations for state funding for public school construction removes hard caps on square footage eligible for state funding participation while continuing to encourage space-efficient schools. 

Maryland’s public schools are built through a partnership between the State of Maryland and Maryland’s counties, who both provide funding for school construction.

The State’s funding for school construction is based on a variety of formulas, in addition to the limitations of the annual capital budget allocated for education. Eligible costs, wealth calculations, and gross square foot rules are all ways that the State’s limits funding provided to certain school construction projects.

There is a strong drive to reduce square footage when building schools, but there are also many educational, health, and accessibility requirements that demand space in modern schools. 

The state’s gross square foot rules essentially indicates the amount of square footage that the State will consider eligible for its funding. The size depends on the type of the school and the number of students.

Here are a few examples from the current rules:

  • The State will provide its share of school construction funding for 118 square feet per student for an elementary school for 500 students.
  • The State will provide its share of school construction funding for 135 square feet per student for a middle school for 800 students.
  • The State will provide its share of school construction funding for 150 square feet per student for a high school for 1600 students.

Currently, the baselines are a hard cap to additional funding. Under the draft recommendations, however, if a school ends up being larger than that baseline amount, the local school system would have an option to appeal to the State to receive any additional contribution for that part of the building.

“The variance process is a mechanism by which special cases and needs may be addressed. It is also a method for the State to amass evidence overtime that may illuminate a need to adjust the baselines.” – Staff to the Interagency Commission on School Construction

In developing the draft baselines, the Commission considered the most efficient elementary, middle and high schools – those with the smallest square footage per student – built since 1990. The new draft baselines are based on those numbers and a broader study of how large schools must be to meet requirements of Maryland’s existing facility guidelines.

“These funding baselines are intended to support all of the spaces required to deliver the educational programs required by the State of Maryland and to encourage multiple uses of spaces and other utilization-maximizing strategies that can reduce facility size and therefore the long-term costs of ownership.” – Draft Proposal developed by staff to the Interagency Commission on School Construction

The draft baselines are on average greater than the current caps on state funding. The draft high school square footage baselines, depicted here, generally increase the square footage allowances for State school construction funding. This graph shows that for when a high school has a capacity smaller than 1200 students, the state’s baseline draft for funding (black line) is actually be less than it was previously (blue line). Then, for schools larger than 1200 students, its square footage baseline increases. At the same time, some of the most efficient high schools built since 1990 were much larger than these baselines (yellow line).

“These total gross square foot baselines for state funding participation will challenge each project with regard to space efficiency and utilization.” – Draft Proposal developed by Staff to the Interagency Commission on School Construction

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The State’s Interagency Commission has reached out to MACo directly to gather input on these recommendations from counties. County governments are major stakeholders in education and school construction funding in general. Regarding this specific subject, any square footage not covered by the State becomes the full funding responsibility of the county government.

For more information on this subject, review the Draft State Funding Participation Baselines.

To submit your feedback on this proposal, contact Robin Clark Eilenberg at MACo. Input is sought by November 27, 2018.