Wicomico schools seeking $13.08 million for infrastructure

With the school board’s fiscal 2019 budget hearing scheduled in a little more than a week, Schools Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin has unveiled the system’s major capital spending needs for the next several months.

In a quarterly work session last week with the County Council, Hanlin presented a 15-item list that would cost the county $13.088 million. Some of the projects were pre-approved as part of previous capital spending plans.

“This is a very complicated and intricate process,” Hanlin told council members.

She called the capital spending plans “database decisions” that look at the overall educational picture.

“These decisions made not just in isolation of our facility needs, but with what our instructional needs are in the county.”

Hanlin singled out five specific projects as priorities for the coming months, including a replacement school at Beaver Run Elementary on Old Ocean City Road east of Salisbury. Fraught with maintenance, electrical and plumbing problems, the school has long been on a replacement wish list.

The big-ticket item on Hanlin’s list, a new school, is expected to ultimately cost approximately $46 million.

Hanlin said the system’s top priority is a $9.4 million renovation of Delmar Elementary School. Wicomico has already approved $2.051 million for the project, but an additional $852,000 is needed from the county. The state is expected to fund the remaining $7.4 million.

Delmar, which also serves students who live over the state line in Sussex County, is unique within the county’s system. Among its renovation needs are new heating and air conditioning, ceilings and a fire sprinkler system, plumbing repairs and lighting upgrades, and renovation of the cafeteria and gymnasium.

Designed and built in the 1970s, Delmar Elementary is an open-space-concept school, which was the popular learning format of the time. The open spaces will be enclosed to allow for a standard classroom environment.

Next up, Glen Avenue and Pinehurst elementary schools are in line for new roofs. Glen Avenue’s roof is expected to cost $1.9 million, with the county paying $331,000 and the state contributing $1.562 million.

Pinehurst’s roof is expected to cost $879,000, with $154,000 coming from the county and $725,000 from the state. Neither school has had a new roof in more than 30 years.

Wicomico High School, the county’s sprawling campus-style school on Long Avenue, is slated for $3 million in major plumbing repairs and upgrades, with the costs split evenly between the state and county.

The state’s share of Hanlin’s Top 5 would be $13.91 million.

To remove politics from school construction decisions, the state relies on an independent entity called the Maryland Interagency Committee to determine state spending support. Hanlin said Wicomico’s list had been presented to those committee members.

“We also stressed at the state level the unique needs in Wicomico County with increased diversity, increased enrollment and new instructional initiatives.”

The other 10 projects on Hanlin’s list were approved previously by the county and are in the construction/renovation pipelines:

  • An improved parking lot at Chipman Elementary on Lake Street — $648,000.
  • Separate studies of renovations needed at Mardela High and Middle School and Fruitland Primary School. Mardela serves nearly the entire west side of the county and contains systems that have outlived their useful life — $11.8 million is needed; a study of Fruitland’s needs — $75,000.
  • With the removal of Pinehurst’s therapy pool, the school now has space to add classrooms and office space — $1.047 million .
  • Mardela’s long-awaited new track and athletic fields improvements are continuing — $1.216 million.
  • The school system’s Morris Street facility at Salisbury Middle School needs a new parking area to accommodate 50 cars and 50 school buses — $725,000.
  • Charlie Berry Field and Wicomico County Stadium will receive new lights and field house renovations; the light towers will remain but new energy-efficient lights will be installed — $500,000.
  • Auditoriums at Parkside and Wicomico high schools will receive new seating — Parkside’s retrofit will cost $450,000; Wi-Hi’s will cost $500,000.
  • Because it has been designated an Emergency Refuge in a time of a weather crisis or other emergencies, Parkside High School needs a generator to provide reliable electrical service — $1 million.

With the decade-old battle over a new Bennett Middle School and the more-recent tensions over the final replacement plans for West Salisbury Elementary, school board members and school system officials are bracing for a potential clash over Beaver Run.

In fact, it was only recently that the Interagency Committee made a formal recommendation to fund fully the state’s share of the West Salisbury project.

Built in 1958, Beaver Run is a campus-style school much like Wi-Hi, featuring breezeways that connect classroom buildings. The school only accommodates students ranging from pre-kindergarten to Grade 2, so children 8 years old and younger go outside several times each day to move between buildings.

The school’s pipes are clogged with mineral deposits that make the water system unusable, so bottled water is trucked in for student and staff consumption.

If a new school is not approved, school officials have created a punch list of immediate repairs that would needed. Those renovations would cost nearly $6 million, yet do nothing to enhance the 55,000-square-foot facility.

A new school serving 650 students would be completed by 2023. Hanlin said the Maryland Department of Education has already approved the hiring of an architect and engineers to design a new school.

Big projects just over the horizon include replacing Glen Avenue Elementary at an estimated cost of $39 million sometime around 2024 and undertaking a massive renovation of East Salisbury Elementary at a cost of $48 million sometime after 2025.

Because of its unique architecture — it is a twin of Pinehurst Elementary — East Salisbury had been under consideration as possible location for the Board of Education’s Central Office. Those 150 employees, however, were moved into 30,000-square-feet of rented office space in north Salisbury in 2015 and are there on a 20-year lease costing $253,000 per year.

 

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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