The Charles County Board of Education voted unanimously Friday to accept a nearly $48 million bid from a Gaithersburg company to build the county's sixth high school -- the North Point High School for Science, Technology and Industry.

The bid from Dustin Construction Inc. of $47,976,000 was the lowest of three bids that were opened Tuesday. At 311,000 square feet, the school will be the largest building in Charles County when completed in 2005, school officials said.

"This is an exciting day," said Charles L. Wineland, assistant superintendent of supporting services.

The school will be located in Waldorf off Berry Road (Route 228) between Davis and Mill Hill roads. Eventually, the 282-acre site also will be home to a new elementary school and a new middle school, as well as a police, fire and rescue station and a library.

North Point High School is scheduled to open to students in August 2005.

The building, designed to accommodate 1,900 students, will offer traditional high school classes as well as vocational programs so that students pursuing both tracks of study will take classes alongside each other.

In a discussion during a special school board meeting called Friday, senior project manager Ed Scott outlined the possibility that the project budget could have a $1.24 million shortfall because of anticipated additional equipment needs, including a wireless technology plan for the building.

Board of Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large) attended the meeting and pledged support for the project, even as he warned that economic downturns could threaten state funding or jeopardize the county budget.

"This project is worth those risks," Levy said.

Earlier in the week, construction issues also were discussed in St. Mary's County. New bids on the contract to renovate Margaret Brent Middle School will be sought in February 2003 after the St. Mary's County Board of Education agreed unanimously to reject five bids that came in well over the $18.5 million projected budget.

Each of the bids was around $21 million, with just $19,000 separating the two lowest bidders, said Chief Administrative Officer J. Bradley Clements. He said the two elements of the project's design that pushed the costs up were lighting features for the roof and a high-tech heating and cooling system.

First opened in 1957, with subsequent additions in the 1970s, the 93,074-square-foot school currently has an open design without walls between classrooms. Students must go outside to reach gym and music classes. The renovation would enclose those facilities in one building and add 30,000 square feet and classrooms with walls.

With the classrooms located on the inside of the building, school officials and the architect looked for a way to allow natural light to shine in through the roof. A sophisticated option of "light scoops" was deemed too expensive.

Officials will likely employ traditional boilers and a chiller in the building. The initial design called for a costly geothermal system that would extract water from the ground for heating and cooling and recirculate it back into the earth after it passed through a pump.