County ex­am­ines costs to re­open Bel Al­ton High School for use

Looks to re­fur­bish the his­toric land­mark, open it to the pub­lic

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

Af­ter years of be­ing closed down by the Charles County Govern­ment, the Bel Al­ton High School building, which was turned into a recre­ation cen­ter by the Bel Al­ton Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion, is fi­nally be­ing opened back up again.

But it will not come with­out a cost for the county govern­ment. Hay­wood Evans, the direc­tor of Community Ser­vices, said the cost es­ti­mate for the county to re­open the fa­cil­ity to the pub­lic is es­ti­mated to be at $720,000.

Those costs in­clude new con­struc­tion be­ing done to the building, re­plac­ing the 42 win­dows in the building, mak­ing ar­chi­tec­tural and engi­neer­ing changes and re­plac­ing the HVAC sys­tem, Evans said.

David Ei­choltz, the direc­tor of Fis­cal and Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vices for the county, said this project would be paid with bonds. The re­quest was not in the cap­i­tal bud­get plan last bud­get sea­son, he said, so it will have to be added in this year.

“That will be a chal­lenge,” Ei­choltz said. “But typ­i­cally what we do is is­sue county bonds to fund these type of projects and then pay that bor­row­ing back over a course of 15 to 20 years.”

Costs and up­keep have fre­quently been a con­cern with the building. In early 2015, the cur­rent board of county com­mis­sion­ers voted unan­i­mously to change the locks on the school-turned-community-cen­ter in closed ses­sion due to ex­penses the county had to cover.

The Bel Al­ton Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, took over the building’s lease be­gin­ning in 1991 — when the county was go­ing to de­mol­ish the building — un­til the point when it was closed.

The as­so­ci­a­tion chose to protest against the clos­ing of the school be­cause it was one of the two high schools left from when the county’s school sys­tem was still seg­re­gated. Despite ob­tain­ing the lease on the building, the county was still li­able for any pay­ments missed by the as­so­ci­a­tion. That led to the county field­ing costs the as­so­ci­a­tion could not pay.

Evans said the county dis­cov­ered the things they needed to re­pair on an ini­tial walk­through of the building. There are “nu­mer­ous” soft spots in the floor and a “musty odor” in the building which could in­di­cate mold, he said. Af­ter all is­sues are re­solved, he said, there will need to be a sec­ond inspection of the building as well.

The county will seek a community devel­op­ment block grant for the building, Evans said, but to meet that re­quire­ment 51 per­cent of the in­di­vid­u­als served in the building must meet the re­quire­ments of a low-to-mod­er­ate in­come res­i­dent.

“If we’re serv­ing 200 people in the building then 101 of those people need to meet that re­quire­ment,” he said.

The cur­rent grant the county has for the building only re­quires that the den­tal equip­ment in the building is in­ven­to­ried through March 18, Evans said. But it is in­ven­to­ried an­nu­ally, he said, and the county is com­mit­ted to op­er­at­ing the den­tal fa­cil­ity in the building as it is “deemed ap­pro­pri­ate.”

The money the county will put into the building, Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy (D) said, is to en­sure that the county gets the building into a con­di­tion that ven­dors will find suit­able. The plan, he said, is to at­tract ven­dors to bring “in­come into that building.”

“Over time, that could off­set some of this,” he said. “As of right now, we’re not in a po­si­tion to be able to do that.”

Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) asked what it would take for the county to get into a po­si­tion where they could be­gin hav­ing ten­ants in the building.

Bill Shreve, the county’s direc­tor of Pub­lic Works, said it is dif­fi­cult to work in a building when things have to be re­struc­tured, and there is also a pos­si­bil­ity that there is mold in the fa­cil­ity.

The depart­ment wants to be­gin work on the building in the spring, Shreve said, and would ide­ally have the building open next year.

“If we could get started work in early spring we might be done in early Jan­uary of next year,” he said.

The county would give the Bel Al­ton Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion, who tended to the building be­fore the county closed it, an op­por­tu­nity to move any be­long­ings and ma­te­rial they may have in the building to the two rooms they will oc­cupy. The as­so­ci­a­tion would also have the op­por­tu­nity to use the au­di­to­rium, once con­struc­tion is com­pleted, Evans said, three times per year with no cost. And dur­ing nor­mal busi­ness hours, he said, the as­so­ci­a­tion will have ac­cess to two rooms in the fa­cil­ity that the county has se­lected for them.

“The next steps are iden­ti­fy­ing pos­si­ble ven­dors and propos­ing how to fund it,” Evans said.

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