BY HEATHER WRIGHT — With school summer vacation here, school construction projects may not be uppermost in anyone’s mind. However, public schools and their facilities are often significant factors for families moving into an area. Not to mention those who already live and are raising children in that area.
In a recent Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) Board of Education (BOE) decision, proposed start dates for massive building projects for both Hyattsville Elementary School (HES) and Hyattsville Middle School (HMS) have been pushed back by at least a year. In addition, proposed funding levels for both projects have been decreased.
Based on a facilities needs survey, HES was slated for a full renovation and an addition for fiscal year 2018 (including planning, design and construction) because of “deteriorated conditions,” “educational adequacy issues,” and “planning area overcrowding.” The proposed 2018 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) request projects that planning for the HES building project would start in FY 2019. According to April 12 PGCPS CIP meeting documents, the new projected start date is FY 2020-22 “due to a lack of approved funding in FY .”
HMS was slated for a full renovation and addition starting in FY 2021 because of “deteriorated conditions” and “planning area overcrowding.” The proposed 2018 CIP request has planning for the HMS building project starting in FY 2022.
Additionally, T. Carter Ross, secretary for the HMS PTSO, pointed out that according to county capital improvement budgets there is a reduction in the planned spending on both HES and HMS replacement projects in the proposed 2018 CIP budget compared to the approved 2017 CIP budget. For HES, it dropped approximately 25 percent from $32.66 million to $24.57 million; for HMS, it dropped approximately 17 percent, from $84.67 million to $70.47 million.
When asked about both building projects, Prince George’s County councilmember Deni Taveras (District 2) said, “I still have concerns myself. At the end of the day, there simply was not enough money from the state to fund all projects. As such, PGCPS opted to fund the most urgent [projects].”
Construction delays and funding decreases are indeed happening countywide. Lynn McCawley, PGCPS senior public information specialist, said that the “FY 2017 Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP) approved and adopted by the School Board identified a total need of $8.5 billion to renovate all PGCPS facilities in the next 20 years. This equates to approximately $425 million each year for the next 20 years to implement this plan.”
However, McCawley continued, “PGCPS receives a total of approximately $120 million each year from the state and county for the capital improvements. The impact of less-than-desirable funding is impacting the start dates of modernization projects from one to two fiscal years. This is the reason both HES and HMS modernization start dates have been moved back.”
“The similar funding reductions in the subsequent years may further delay the start dates of this and other modernization projects,” she added.
Indeed, April 12 PGCPS CIP meeting minutes indicated concerns about delays and the substantial difference between current funding levels and what is needed to finance PGCPS construction projects: “The Board expressed concerns [about] the delays in the school modernization plan and how pushing back the timelines of the building updates affects the safety of students and the useful life of the schools.”
When asked about CIP cost decreases for both schools, McCrawley said, “The total project costs for all renovation, addition and replacement projects have been decreased between the FY 17 and FY 18 CIPs due to reduction in the per square foot construction rates by the state. The per-square-foot construction rate was reduced from $282/square feet in FY 2017 to $265/square feet in FY 18. This change in the construction rate yielded lower estimates for all addition, renovation and replacement projects including HES and HMS.”
In the fall of 2014, PGCPS initiated the Master Plan Support Project (MPSP) “with an impartial consultant team [Brailsford & Dunlavey] to develop a more effective way to prioritize school construction and renovation projects,” as noted in the approved FY 2017 EFMP. The team conducted a facility condition assessment and a utilization function assessment on all PGCPS schools in order to proactively prioritize building projects. The MPSP showed a need for eight more schools across the county, “along with additions at many schools to address overcrowding.” Additionally, the MPSP found that PGCPS’s “aging inventory requires more than just critical repairs if we are to provide up-to-date educational programs, meet current building codes, and operate inventory that is in a state of good repair.”
To address MPSP findings, PGCPS developed a 20-year plan for capital improvements to cost a total of $8.5 billion. According to the FY 2017 EFMP, “Rather than long lists of systemic replacement projects that just brush the surface of our schools’ needs, this 20-year plan proposes a renovation program to upgrade both the physical and educational deficiencies of every school built before 2000.”
However, if the current annual funding discrepancy of $300+ million continues, it would suggest that fewer than a third of scheduled PGCPS building projects could occur each year. The BOE has requested that PGCPS administration “immediately explore alternative financing to address school construction needs.” Until alternative financing is found, however, it is likely that HES and HMS construction projects — and those of other PGCPS schools — will encounter further delays.