Wicomico School System Eyes Three Major Capital Projects

SALISBURY – Education officials and parents came before county officials this week to highlight the need for funding school projects at a public hearing on the proposed Capital Improvement Program.

On Monday, officials in Wicomico County held a public hearing on the proposed 2020-2024 Capital Improvement Program (CIP), a planning document which outlines major projects in the coming years.

The plan includes $222.4 million in proposed capital projects in the next five years, including $88 million for the Wicomico County Board of Education, $64 million for the Salisbury airport and $35 million for Wor-Wic Community College.

In fiscal year 2020, county departments have submitted more than $55 million in requests, including

$22.4 million from the Wicomico County Board of Education, $19.4 million from the Salisbury airport, $5.1 from the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office and $4.2 million from various public works departments.

“It’s a competitive process,” said Weston Young, the county’s assistant director of administration. “Nobody gets everything they want.”

Young said the proposed funding sources in fiscal year 2020 included $10.2 million in pay-go requests, $1.2 million in enterprise and special government requests, $27 million in grant requests and $16.7 million in general obligation bond requests.

“Historically in last few years we’ve been in the $9 million to $10 million borrowing range,” he said. “That is something we are going to have to look at.”

In the CIP, education officials have prioritized the replacement of Beaver Run Elementary School, planning and studies for the replacement or renovation of Mardela Middle and High School and a roof replacement at Westside Intermediate School.

Superintendent of Schools Donna Hanlin told county officials this week the school system was seeking the county’s support in funding those three projects.

“Any delay will just prolong or exacerbate the problems that are occurring in our schools,” she said, “and also result in an increase in the need for funding.”

Diane Raubenstine, PTA president at Mardela Middle and High School, emphasized the need for renovations at the school. She highlighted failing HVAC systems, accessibility issues, aging mechanicals and inadequate classroom space.

“Mardela is overcrowded,” she said. “The staff does their best to accommodate all of their students, but it comes at a cost to student learning.”

Raubenstine added that the lack of an entrance vestibule and the use of portable classrooms presented safety concerns.

“None of us want to think of this, but we cannot afford to ignore it.”

Curt Twilley, principal at Beaver Run Elementary, also presented his requests to county officials this week. He requested the county’s support in beginning the next step in the construction of a new facility.

“Now that we look forward to the next phase of the process, we are asking for your consideration to confirm our financial commitment as a county to make the completion of the Beaver Run project possible,” he said.

Twilley noted that the school – built in 1958 – lacked the needed safety and accessibility features and adequate instructional space that would be provided in a new facility.

“Our facility is in disrepair and in dire need of replacement,” he said.

Joseph Jones, the parent of a Beaver Run student, agreed.

“It’s sad that the teachers have to switch on and off the light switches about three or four times just for the lights to come on,” he said.

Jones, a law enforcement officer, also noted that the school was easy to access from the front and side of the building.

“My heart went out to those kids at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” he said. “I don’t want that to happen to our kids at Beaver Run.”

Parents and administrators also spoke on behalf of Westside Intermediate.

Parent Bill Houlihan urged the county to fund the replacement of the school’s roof.

“I understand the original roof was built 20 years ago and it has been leaking for the past five to 10,” he said. “Currently there are tarps on the roof.”

Chris Nunzio, principal at Westside Intermediate, highlighted the safety concerns associated with the leaking roof.

“When I left the school, I made sure the tarps were in place and the buckets were out,” he said. “It’s not the way to run a school as a principal. My goal is to be there for the instruction and the safety of those children.”

County Executive Bob Culver told attendees county officials would consider each of the requests that have been made.

“They haven’t fallen on deaf ears,” he said.

Young agreed.

“We are going to have to sit down and try to work out all the requests that we have this year in front of us,” he said. “That’s part of the process.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.