Bennett Middle School Bond Bill Introduced

SALISBURY – Only a couple more steps to go until the process to construct a new Bennett Middle School (BMS) could be underway.

The Wicomico County Council voted unanimously this week to introduce legislative bill 2012-07 to allow the county to appropriate $12,550,000 in bonds to be used in the fiscal year of 2013 to construct a replacement for BMS. The bill also calls for a $50,000 contingency fund to be used to pay the difference between estimates costs and actual costs.

The inception of the BMS project, the construction of a new school and the demolition of the current school, began over three years ago and the county has already bonded $8 million to go toward the project. The estimated total cost is $75.3 million.

Many concerns have been expressed over the conditions of the 46-year-old school, including its noncompliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, faulty wiring, lack of technology, security of students, over population of students, lack of air conditioning and a list of maintenance issues.

According to the Board of Education, the groundbreaking for the replacement of the school could take place as soon as January 2013. The new school will be built on a 36-acre property on South Division Street in Fruitland. The school will have an enrollment capacity of 937 to comfortably hold the current 925 students enrolled. The estimated completion date is currently August 2016.

Once the replacement for Bennett Middle School opens, the old school will be demolished to create room for Bennett High School’s new athletic fields, which would complete the high school’s project all together. There is $7.3 million waiting on the sidelines for the new fields and the funds can only be used for that purpose.

County Attorney Edgar Baker explained that the introduction of the bill is the first step. Following the adoption of the Capital Improvement Budget, the next step would be to hold a public hearing concerning the bill and the final step would be to the acceptance of a bond resolution.

“I look forward to things moving forward,” Councilwoman Sheree Sample-Hughes said prior to the council take roll call vote, which resulted in unanimous consensus.

Director of Finance Andy Mackel said the county’s financial advisor, Davenport & Company LLC, suggested the county go to the bond market as soon as possible to not interfere with elections in November. The goal is to go to the bond market by the first week in October because there has to be a 60-day period following the bill’s passage before the sale can occur.

The council will hold a public hearing on July 12 at 6 p.m. in council chambers in the Government Office Building. A vote will take place that night or the following County Council legislative session.