CCPS deferred maintenance projected to hit nearly $50 million
Plan to close Leeds put on hold
jiannetta@ cecilwhig. com
— Despite spending millions of dollars on school improvement projects last year, school officials still expect the system’s deferred maintenance to climb by more than $ 4.5 million this year.
Last year, Cecil County Public Schools completed a $ 19 million renovation at Perryville Elementary School, resurfaced
the tennis courts at Rising Sun High School and completed four boiler replacement projects. But none of that is expected to make a significant dent in the school system’s deferred maintenance, which officials anticipate to reach nearly $ 50 million this year.
“We’re still not digging out of a hole — we’re treading water,” said Perry Willis, CCPS executive director for support services. “It really is a balancing act right now and it’s not going to get much better until we get some of these projects moving quicker.”
The latest deferred maintenance projection came during school officials’ presentation of the fiscal year 2017 comprehensive maintenance plan and fiscal year 2018 capital improvement plan to the school board on Monday night. Both these plans are required annually and, after the board approves the plans next month, the plans will be forwarded to the state for potential state funding.
All in all, Monday’s meeting proved to be a frustrating one for the elected school board as they expressed concerns not only about the deferred maintenance but also about the system’s proposed capital projects, including the future of Leeds Elementary School and possible renovations to North East Middle School and Kenmore Elementary School.
Adding to the board’s frustration is an uncertain funding climate at both the state and local level. At the state level, a commission set up by the General Assembly is currently conducting the first comprehensive look at Maryland’s school construction program in 12 years, with a full report expected in December — just in time for the state legislature to act on its findings when it reconvenes in January.
Meanwhile, at the local level, two new council members and a new county executive will take office following the November election, shaking up the other political entity responsible for providing school construction funds. Also fresh in the school board’s mind was a resolution it passed earlier this month allocating $ 245,000 for emergency air conditioning repairs at the Bohemia Manor middle and high school complex and at the Cecil County School of Technology.
“We really need to start to talk about this path that we’re headed down, especially with the two projects that just appeared on our doorstep,” board member Lauren Camphausen said. “Some of these schools that are barely even showing up on the CIP aren’t exactly Taj Mahals.”
Larger national trends are also not favoring the school system, Willis said. With the recovering economy, there’s more work available and contractors are charging more for their services. This could mean fewer — and higher — bids on any work that CCPS does have the money for and is a big reason officials expect a 2.5 percent increase in deferred maintenance this fiscal year, Willis said.
As in the past, the majority of CCPS’s deferred maintenance falls into the areas of mechanical and roofs, with those two categories making up about $ 29.57 million and $ 11.49 million respectively of the projected $ 49.63 million fiscal year 2017 deferred maintenance.
Similarly, the school system’s proposed fiscal year 2018 capitol improvement plan includes many projects aimed at addressing this deferred maintenance, including boiler replacements at Perr yville High School, Conowingo Elementary School and Rising Sun Elementary School and roof replacements at Cecil Manor Elementary School, the Bo Manor school complex and the Providence School.
The second year of funding for the Gilpin Manor Elementary School replacement project topped the list and local planning funds for the Chesapeake City Elementary School replacement project were also included. CCPS expects to break ground on the Gilpin Manor project in the coming months while the school system is currently in the process of negotiating the purchase of land from the fire company for the Chesapeake City project, Willis said.
But it was the priority order of the renovations to Kenmore Elementary School and North East Middle School that generated the most discussion among the school board. The renovations to Kenmore are part of a plan school officials announced in 2014 that would close Leeds Elementary School by the 2020- 2021 school year and expand Kenmore to accommodate those students.
Since the closing of Leeds is contingent on the Kenmore renovations, that project has been listed ahead of the renovations to North East Middle on the system’s list of capital projects. But on this year’s list, the NEMS renovation is listed ahead of Kenmore, noted Charles Simpers, manager of school construction.
The plan to close Leeds may be on hold after some recent success with fixing the school’s ongoing water quality issues, coupled with the increasing amount of deferred maintenance at NEMS, Simpers said.
For fiscal year 2017, CCPS estimates that NEMS will have more than $5 million of deferred maintenance, said Ted Lambert, super visor of facilities, noting that the school was first built in 1932 and most of the equipment is from 1973.
Conversely, the main issue at Leeds has been its well system, which has been replaced three times yet still created many water quality issues at the school. However, last August, CCPS installed a storage tank system at the school, which seems to have fixed that problem, Lambert said.
“The Leeds building still doesn’t have a gymnasium, still doesn’t have some instructional spaces that it does need, but as a functioning facility with only $600,000 of deferred maintenance, it seemed to make sense to grab more deferred maintenance and push North East Middle in front of it,” Willis said.
Overall, CCPS is asking for a total of $ 6.73 million from the state and $ 6.1 million from the county, both less than the system asked for last year, Simpers said.
But board member Camphausen said she’s worried that the school system’s request isn’t aggressive enough, suggesting that within the next two years, CCPS should consider putting two school renovation projects on the table at once.
“Either we’re going to have to do it catastrophically at some point or we have to star t pushing that envelope a little bit,” she said.
Willis noted that the school system tries to make its request something the county can reasonably afford. CCPS wants to avoid sending the county a request it can’t even consider, he added.
“We’ve backed off in order to give them something that’s more responsible from a funding perspective,” Willis said.
But Camphausen said the county seems to be taking advantage of the school system by continuing to lower the amount of debt it’s comfortable carr ying.
“We’ve backslid,” she said. “At some point those tough conversations have to be had.”
After solving the water quality issues at Leeds Elementary School, school officials’ plan to close the school has been put on hold.
A plan to expand Kenmore Elementary School to accommodate students from Leeds Elementary School has been put on hold.