By Sen. Roy Dyson

[ Senator Dyson's Newletter ]

The formal dedication of the renovation of my alma mater, Great Mills High School, was a joyous occasion for myself and the whole community. It is a near miracle that the old school has been changed into what looks for all the world like a brand new school. A brand new school with character, I might add.

The final price tag for the renovated Great Mills High School was slightly under $20 million. That compares to $35 million for a brand new high school of the same size, according to Brad Clements, the school board's facilities director. So this was not only the right thing to do, but it was the fiscally prudent thing to do.

Some people in the community wanted a brand new school at a new location. They didn't like the school's neighborhood. But pulling out the school would have destroyed the neighborhood by leaving a white elephant in its midst. Now the new Great Mills High School is a source of pride for the neighborhood and the whole county.

The decision to renovate instead of building a new facility is in keeping with the county's master plan to accommodate school growth. The population explosion has been accomplished with school expansion and renovation. We are getting the biggest bang for the buck and at the same time preserving the community school concept.

Governor Parris Glendening was the keynote speaker at the Great Mills dedication. The governor, along with Maryland Comptroller Louis Goldstein and State Treasurer Richard Dixon make up the State Board of Public Works. They will be meeting on May 13th to decide on appeals of tentative denials of some school construction projects.

In St. Mary's County those projects hanging in the balance are planning for additions and renovations to Banneker Elementary and Margaret Brent Middle schools, the HVAC system for Town Creek Elementary and some additional funding for the Esperanza Middle School addition and renovation.

I would hope that the Board of Public Works would reconsider and approve these projects. We know that additional growth is coming. It hasn't come as fast as everyone, including the school board, anticipated. But I am sure it is coming.

The state board should recognize that St. Mary's County has taken a financially enlightened approach to the growth problem. The Banneker and Margaret Brent projects are just two more examples of that consistent philosophy.

Several major projects have already been approved. They include reimbursing the county for the money forward funded for the Chopticon High School renovation and planning approval for the Leonardtown High School renovation. Starting to sound like a broken record. Looks like we'll be going to a lot of building dedications at familiar locations over the new few years.

Here's one final thought on the subject of school construction. I know a lot of people, including me, are concerned about the population growth that is happening in our community. Some say the schools can't handle it. The problem with growth is that we never know quite for sure exactly where it's going to occur.

School officials have done a good job planning for overall growth. But the county's adequate public facilities ordinance doesn't require space at the next closest school for a housing project to get the green light. It only requires the availability of additional space somewhere. Now it's up to the planners and county officials to make sure that the population growth occurs where the school space is being planned. Otherwise we'll have massive school redistricting plans to contend with every year. I sure don't like that. I know parents and kids don't like it.

[ Senator Dyson's Newletter ]