ANNAPOLIS, Md. - The Maryland Board of Public Works on Wednesday approved about $18 million in grants for three county school systems from money that will be raised by an increase in the sales tax on alcohol, although one board member questioned why $2 million to replace natural grass football fields with artificial turf at two high schools in Howard County was a priority.
Howard, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties were the first to receive approval for school construction grants from money the state will collect from a 50 percent increase in the alcohol tax. The increase was approved by lawmakers in this year's session.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, a board member, asked a county school official what the rationale was for making the football fields such a high priority. Wayne Crosby, the director of school facilities, said it will allow more community use, because the current fields can't be used as much.
"What this is going to do is this is going to allow the Howard County Department of Parks and Recreation to utilize these fields also, which at the time we cannot, because the wear on the field will not allow extensive use," Crosby said.
Howard County also will receive $1 million to replace hall lockers, as well as security and fire alarm systems at Oakland Mills High School. Part of the money also will be used to replace a stadium press box, which is described in the board agenda for the meeting as a safety hazard. Money also will be used to replace doors and hardware in an auxiliary gym to provide security. A wrestling mat rack lift mechanism also will be replaced.
The General Assembly put aside $47.5 million from the tax increase for school construction projects throughout the state. That's on top of $264.6 million in fiscal year 2012's school construction capital improvement program. The school construction money from the alcohol tax increase is set aside only for one year. After that, the money will go into the state's general fund.
Montgomery County is receiving about $9 million. About $5 million will help pay for replacing Rockville's Farmland Elementary School.
Anne Arundel County is getting about $5 million to add on to Annapolis High School for performance and visual arts studios.
Gov. Martin O'Malley, one of three board members, said now is a good time to invest in school infrastructure, because bids for work are very competitive.
"In other words, we're getting a very good price on this work," O'Malley said.
The governor also noted that the school construction work will generate jobs.
More school districts will be coming to the board to talk about how their portion of the money will be spent.
It remains unclear how much money the increase in the sales tax on alcohol from 6 percent to 9 percent will generate this year. Initial estimates projected about $85 million will be raised. However, in the first month of revenues from July about $6 million was raised. That would add up to about $72 million a year, but state officials caution it's hard to tell how much will be raised annually based only on the first month's revenues.
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