Expedited Replacement Of Brunswick High Included In Facilities Plan Approved By Board
Barring Funding Hurdles, New School Set To Open In 2028
June 29, 2023
The Board of Education voted to reprioritize the replacement of Brunswick High School at a work session on Wednesday when it unanimously adopted the Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP) for 2023.
The EFMP serves as a road map for maintaining and improving school facilities over a rolling ten-year period. It includes the narrower six-year Capital Improvement Plan, under which Brunswick was reprioritized. The document establishes a timeline for major projects while guiding capital allocation within the FCPS budget and funding requests at the state and local levels. The Board reviews and updates the plan annually.
According to the latest installment, the design phase for a new Brunswick High is slated to begin in 2025, with construction commencing in 2027 and the new building opening to students in the 2028-29 school year.
The vote follows a monthslong effort by the Brunswick community to rectify conditions at the high school they’ve described as unsafe and inequitable. The Brunswick High School Rebuild Committee has maintained a constant presence at recent Board meetings, delivering public comments detailing inadequate learning environments, health and safety concerns, and noncompliance with building codes and federal ADA regulations, all aimed at urging the Board to accelerate the 67-year-old building’s replacement.
A rebuild of Brunswick High was first approved in 2019 and scheduled for completion in 2023 before being inexplicably delayed by over a decade. Until Wednesday, the EFMP reflected an opening date in 2033, fourteen years after a feasibility study ordered by FCPS concluded that the condition of the building necessitated an intervention.
In response to growing concerns, the Board vowed to take a stance characterized by multiple members as “aggressive,” prompting the project’s inclusion in the CIP contained within the 2023 EFMP.
For Hope Bonanno, Chairperson of the Rebuild Committee, the vote marks a crucial first step in the right direction.
“The Brunswick community appreciates that the Board of Education heard us and aggressively reprioritized BHS on the Capital Improvement Plan as well as unanimously approved the 2023 Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP),” Bonanno wrote.
Despite garnering a nod from the Board, the project faces a tortuous and uncertain road ahead. Board members stress that the EFMP is a tentative and dynamic framework, subject to change as budget issues arise and needs shift.
Both of these caveats threaten to derail the project before it’s even left the station.
At their regular meeting Wednesday night, the Board eked out a $910 million operating budget for fiscal year 2024 after weeks of combing through the draft provided by FCPS staff for cuts that could help close a $22 million gap between proposed expenditures and expected revenues.
Soaring enrollment — a contributory factor to the budget shortfall — also promises to demand the diversion of capital improvement resources to several areas in the county experiencing rapid population growth, further squeezing funds.
With the accommodation of growth taking precedence, coming up with the capital for renewal projects presents a significant hurdle. During a May meeting, Board members expressed grave concern at reports by staff that deferred maintenance and capital renewal backlogs were both in excess of $500 million, with 21 schools across the county overdue for limited renovation and 7 overdue for replacement.
Rising material costs have also dealt blows to the feasibility of planned construction projects. Since 2019, the total cost of a Brunswick High rebuild alone has ballooned from $93 million to over $130 million.
In light of these challenges, the Board underscored the necessity of securing state and local funding and encouraged continued advocacy at all levels of government.
Bonanno embraced the task, saying, “It will need to be a collaborative effort from the BOE, FCPS staff, state delegation, County Executive, County Council, Brunswick Mayor, Brunswick Council, the Brunswick community, and our committee to procure funding from the state and county.”
With an October deadline looming to request state funds, Board Vice President Dean Rose asserted that the acceleration of Brunswick High’s replacement will rely upon “significant state legislation, and quickly.”