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City formalizes $1B school construction plan

Baltimore’s spending board, the Board of Estimates, on Wednesday approved a memorandum of understanding to formally commence a $1 billion, 10-year school construction and revitalization project.

The effort, approved by the General Assembly earlier this year and signed into law May 16 by Gov. Martin O’Malley, will use state lottery funds and a portion of revenue from the city’s yet-to-open casino, as well as the city bottle tax, to help fund the restoration and construction of a host of public schools, many of which are decrepit and nonfunctioning.

Construction is expected to begin in the 2014-15 school year.

The 54-page memorandum of understanding binds the city, the Maryland Stadium Authority, the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners and the state’s Interagency Committee on Construction. It outlines the roles and responsibilities of each entity. The Maryland Stadium Authority was designated by state legislators to have oversight of the project.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform our schools,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, “to give our children facilities that we all know that they deserve.”

The legislation, the mayor added, will “provide services and facilities that (school children) need to get a good education.”

City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said during the Board of Estimates meeting that he plans to introduce a resolution before the City Council mandating annual progress reports.

Gary A. McGuigan, a project executive at the stadium authority, attended the Board of Estimates meeting and said there had been 61 meetings held to date to discuss the parameters and priorities of the project.

J. Keith Scroggins, chief operating officer of Baltimore City Public Schools, said the first school to be upgraded will be Cherry Hill Elementary, near where the city is also building a recreation center. The dual project will lift the community, he said.

Scroggins said there are 13 feasibility studies ongoing between communities and schools officials to determine which schools will be renovated and which will be replaced. That work will be completed by the end of the year.

There are about 85,000 students registered in the city school system.