Report Identifies $2.4B in Necessary School Upgrades

Baltimore city school officials released Tuesday the results of an exhaustive assessment of more than 150 school buildings, where roughly $2.4 billion in infrastructure needs were identified.

The highly anticipated "Jacobs Report" is the blueprint of a large-scale facilities plan that could see dozens of city schools either close or be rebuilt. The system is looking to improve not only the physical conditions of school buildings, the oldest in the state, but their ability to support a shift toward improving the quality of education in the city and the impending implementation of more rigorous standards.

The report — the most detailed inventory ever conducted of the system's facilities — will guide a strategy to "right-size the district," a plan city schools CEO Andres Alonso announced last year that would look to shed the most dilapidated and underutilized buildings, and maximize the capacity of those that can support the system's reforms. The plan is also vital to garnering support from lawmakers in the district's next attempt to secure a steady stream of funding to support a $1.2 billion alternative financing plan.

Specifics of the report will be released during a 10:30 a.m. news conference at Northwood Elementary School.

"The bottom line for me is not about the condition of the schools," Alonso said. "The bottom line is what kind of settings are we going to need to have in order to give our students the best possible chance to succeed, in a world where the standards are becoming more rigorous, and where the gap between the kinds of setting for more [advantaged] kids and the kinds of settings for students in urban public schools is growing."

Officials said that 50 of the system's schools were identified as candidates for either closure or rebuilding. The schools were identified through an assessment of a "facility condition index." The assessors attached an index number to the schools, and any that received 75 or higher were those identified for some form of a massive overhaul.

The report also assessed "educational adequacy" of buildings, for example, how the layout of buildings could support instruction. The report also takes stock of enrollment in schools, finding the system overall has roughly 26,000 unfilled seats.

School officials will begin holding meetings with school communities next month and throughout the summer to discuss the best plans — officials said that even buildings in the worst shape may not necessarily close — for the schools with the greatest needs.

The system will make recommendations about what schools will be renovated, rebuilt or closed in November.

"This is about what our buildings communicate about the expectations we have for our kids," Alonso said. "Kids internalize messages from all kinds of things, and physical environment is very important."

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By Erin B 06/26/2012 09:29:00