Prince George's County will soon spend nearly $126 million to fix or replace public school roofs, and heating and cooling systems in an effort to erase a massive maintenance backlog, county and school officials announced yesterday.
With a vote of approval expected this month from the County Council, officials said the program would inject $66 million into an annual school repair fund that currently has about $8 million. It would be funded largely through general-obligation bonds backed by telecommunications tax revenue and other sources.
Counting an additional $6 million in unspent funds from the previous fiscal year, school officials would have $80 million to fix chronically leaking roofs and upgrade boilers, chillers and ventilation systems during the next three years.
"It's unheard of," said interim schools chief Howard A. Burnett at a news conference at Arrowhead Elementary School in Upper Marlboro, southeast of the Beltway.
A jubilant Burnett stood at a podium with County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) in a hallway with white ceiling tiles stained light brown from leaks. Personnel in the 39-year-old school set up as many as seven buckets to catch drips and drizzles during heavy rains -- a common tale in the 199-school system.
"These children need the best environment possible to learn, and the teachers must have the best working conditions to teach," Johnson said. "The maintenance of these halls of learning has been deferred too long."
The program would mark a major expansion of school funding initiatives under Johnson. He recently helped obtain $10 million to install window air conditioners for classrooms across the county.
In fiscal 2007 and 2008 combined, the program would channel nearly $46 million into school repairs. Over three years, the program would cost $125.8 million.
Johnson said details were being ironed out with the council. "They are in agreement with us, for the most part," he said. Council Vice Chairman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel) agreed. "The council has been arguing in favor of renovations for the past three years," Dernoga said. "We're pleased."
Council members could tinker, though, with where the money flows. A report circulated by Johnson's staff showed Council District 9, represented by Marilynn M. Bland (D-Clinton), would get the most repair money: $21.5 million for 29 projects. Her district spans a wide swath of the southern part of the county and has many older schools.
Council District 2, represented by William A. Campos (D-Hyattsville), would get the least amount of repair money, $5.6 million for 11 projects. Campos's district is a northwest corner of the county, inside the Beltway, and has some new schools and apparently has fewer immediate maintenance needs.
County and school officials said the list of 176 countywide projects was developed based on objective criteria. However, Johnson said council members "have different districts, and they have different interests," acknowledging that the project list might be modified.
Still, the sheer amount of funding is likely to reduce the perennial political intrigue that influences school construction appropriations.
Johnson said he had a pet project or two that he wanted to ensure would be funded. Asked to name them, he stumbled a bit. "Green -- something Green," he said. "I'll get the name for you." Aides and school officials helped him. "Green Valley, that's it," he said, referring to the Green Valley Academy in Temple Hills, an alternative middle school.
The repair program is expected to be passed at the same time as a separate funding package to help finish a controversial 5,000-seat gymnasium at a new Upper Marlboro high school due to open next August.