A story in the Nov. 7 Extra mistakenly described the location where the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Construction reported its findings to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens. The meeting took place in a conference room in the county executive's chambers. (Published 11/14/02)

To cut costs in the county's school construction budgets, Anne Arundel's Board of Education should form a committee of construction experts to oversee both design and development, keep the designs simple and consistent, speed up the payment process for contractors, and lobby the Maryland General Assembly so that schools no longer pay sales tax on building materials, according to a new report.

"You're trying to build the best building, for the cheapest price," summed up the mission statement and findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission's School Construction Report, which commission Chairman Edward St. John presented to County Executive Janet S. Owens last week.

School Superintendent Eric J. Smith agreed at last week's school board meeting that the report has been vital as the school system revamps its approach to school construction. The report and the commission's work, which school officials have already begun to follow, offered "good direction," Smith said, "and good guidance."

The mood of the meeting, complete with small gifts for Smith and all members of the commission, was cordial and complimentary of the report's findings.

"We've gained a lot by having our staff work with this committee," Smith said.

Anything, Owens noted, that "helps us do more with less is really to be appreciated here. The more we can devote to the classroom, the better."

St. John confessed that, when he agreed to head the commission, he feared that "we were going to make this nice report, and they're going to put it in the trash can."

But much to his surprise, he said last week, that has not happened. In fact, the opposite has occurred -- the school system managed to upstage the commission.

As soon as Smith took the superintendent's post in July, he knew that school construction "certainly was an issue here." So he showed up, on his second day of work, at an 8 a.m. commission meeting. And a few weeks later, he was cutting $12 million from the designs for Marley Elementary and Marley Middle schools. He was scrapping other ornate designs and architectural flourishes that the commission had pointed to as unnecessary expenses. And he promises that more cuts are to come.

Indeed, when St. John presented his group's findings to the school board a month and a half ago, he told them, "Maybe we won't have to write anything up."

St. John paused and looked over at Smith. "It seems like someone's already gotten the word."

Alan Levy, the county's liaison to the school system, said that the schools "have incorporated two-thirds of what we're suggesting. But there's still some recommendations in the report."

Smith reacted well to the idea of forming a permanent committee of experienced commercial construction professionals to help with the design and development phase of building schools.

Such a committee, he said, could "keep us on target with cost-related issues."

Commission members mentioned that Montgomery and Howard counties pay their contractors faster than Anne Arundel does -- an issue that means Anne Arundel often loses out when competing for business against those counties.

"The value of prompt payment is critical," commission member Walter Hall said. "And we need to add that to make our county a more desirable county to do business with."