November 4, 2009

Missing “not” ties up school construction regs

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By Andy Rosen
Andy@MarylandReporter.com

State education officials came close to letting one word — or lack thereof — substantially change the effect of a massive school construction regulation that was approved by the Board of Public Works Wednesday.

David Lever, Maryland’s director of public school construction, said in an interview last week that he caught the omission of the word “not” in a section of the regulations regarding state spending on school renovations. Without a correction, that would have made it easier for schools to get major fixes more than once every 15 years.

Lever said the regulations had already begun working their way through the regulatory process and were set for approval by the BPW last month when he realized that the word was missing during what he calls a “line by line review.”

“Three letters and it changed the whole meaning,” he said. “I came across this and I realized that it slipped through.”

The state distinguishes between partial and full renovations for schools. A full renovation essentially brings a school up to modern specifications, while a partial renovation only affects certain building systems. When a school gets a full renovation, it’s not eligible for similar improvements for at least 15 years.

Well, not the way the document was written. Lever said the change requires the regulations to take another trip through the state’s approval process, which involves a review by the General Assembly’s Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee.

The guidelines cover the state’s participation in school construction projects. Though most of them have been in place for several years, provisions have been added or tweaked to allow the state to help pay for construction in areas that are growing as a result of the U.S. military’s Base Realignment and Closure plan. BRAC is bringing tens of thousands of jobs to Maryland, particularly in the areas of Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground.

DAM CONTRACT: Also Wednesday, the three-member state spending panel signed off on an emergency contract to tear down Union Dam on the Patapsco River. That $1.5 million contract has been in effect since September, after the state declared the deteriorating state of the dam to be an environmental emergency.

STADIUM FIXES: The BPW signed off on more than $12 million in improvements at Baltimore’s professional stadiums as well, allowing the Maryland Stadium Authority to borrow the money to fix parts of the stadium bowl at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and replace the video boards at M&T Bank Stadium.

MSA officials said the condition of the video board, which was installed as a prototype when the stadium was constructed in 1998, was dire. It could fail during a game, said Executive Director Michael Frenz, leaving the state open to a suit from the Baltimore Ravens based on lost advertising revenue or diminished fan experience.

“The risk of a major malfunction on the board … during a game is unacceptably high,” he said. “We feel this work must be done.”