The county school board has approved a $347 million capital improvements budget request for fiscal 2006 that includes a plan to begin converting four elementary schools into middle schools and renovate aging facilities.
"This [capital improvements program] this year identifies several major initiatives," said Tony Liberatore, chief administrator for supporting services. "There's an unprecedented level of funding that we requested. It takes totally into consideration all of our needs."
The plan, approved unanimously by the school board last Thursday, includes $221 million for construction and renovations as well as money for major repairs such as fixing leaking roofs. Based on a 2001 study, school officials estimate they need $1.3 billion for repairs, which they proposed addressing over 10 years, at a cost of $126 million each year.
"We've got leaking roofs in this county," schools chief Andre J. Hornsby said. "We've got to stop the leaks."
The request is part of a six-year plan for construction and renovation projects that totals about $1.2 billion. The plan will go to the County Council and the state for approval.
It also outlines a strategy for dealing with a high school enrollment boom, expected to arrive by 2006. The plan involves expanding six high schools -- including DuVal High School in Lanham, a project that has already been approved by county officials -- and building a high school that would open in 2010. Additionally, school officials proposed renovating those six schools, at a cost of $142 million.
In case the county does not approve the high school additions, school officials included a request for $6.2 million to buy temporary classrooms.
The capital improvements program also seeks the building of a 5,000-seat auditorium-gymnasium in a high school that is under construction in Upper Marlboro and set to open in 2006. That facility could be used for large sporting events and ceremonies now held in privately owned or community facilities. It also could serve as an emergency center if there are weather-related disasters or terrorist attacks, officials said.
Officials pointed out that neighboring Charles County will soon have a similar facility. A high school that includes a 5,000-seat convocation center on its campus is scheduled to open next year, Charles County officials said.
"We've got to build new schools, but we also need to build new schools that have the capacity to accommodate not only our children but their families," school board member Charlene M. Dukes (Glenn Dale) said.
"We're not asking for swimming pools; we're not asking for golf courses," school board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro) said. "We're asking for something where children have the opportunity to learn."
The capital improvements program outlines other major initiatives, such as a middle school overhaul that is scheduled to take place over several years. The school system plans to turn four elementary schools -- Samuel Ogle in Bowie, Glenridge in Landover Hills, Benjamin D. Foulois in Suitland and Beltsville -- into middle schools that would serve students in grades 6, 7 and 8. The middle school conversions are part of an effort to move full-day pre-kindergartners into and sixth-graders out of elementary schools.
The Samuel Ogle conversion is set to happen next year; the remaining three conversions will be phased in by 2007, officials said.