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Harford to fund Harris Stadium completion

BY MARISSA GALLO, mgallo@theaegis.com

6:00 PM EDT, August 16, 2012

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The county government will give additional funding to Harford County Public Schools so improvements at Havre de Grace High School's stadium can be completed, school board members learned Monday.

And, at the urging of a city council member and others in the community, a contingent of Havre de Grace residents is expected to attend Monday's hearing on the 2014 school system capital improvements budget to lobby for a new high school building to complement their relatively new stadium.

They're likely to have competition, though, as several other communities have been vocally lobbying for improvements to or replacements for their school buildings, including a group from Fallston that supports a new building for Youth's Benefit Elementary.

The commitment for the additional Harris Stadium funding had the backing of Harford County Executive David Craig, who has also been the force behind getting a new high school built in his home town.

County steps in

At its meeting earlier this week, the school board approved additional funding of $400,000 for the James R. Harris Stadium field facilities project.

School system documents state the project "exceeded the estimates to complete the project. The Harford County Government was informed of the increased costs and agreed to supplement this capital project budget."

The school system had a capital project balance of $1 million, as of June 1, for the project.

Craig, who was in the audience, announced during the public comment portion of the meeting the county would fund the balance of improvements that came in over what was budgeted.

As usual with capital projects, Craig said, they are "never exactly what they are in the budget," and once the school system receives final quotes for the project, the county will fund them.

The City of Havre de Grace is also waiving utility hook-up fees and inspection fees that will "adjust the numbers slightly to your benefit," said Craig, who is a graduate of HHS.

The county, Craig added, will give the same support for any other similar field restoration projects to keep things fair among schools.

A contract for $1,134,400 was awarded Monday to MRP Contractors LLC for the Harris Stadium improvements project. The company has completed previous projects at Deerfield and Red Pump elementary schools and has worked in other Maryland school districts.

The project will consist of building a visitors fieldhouse and related site improvements, a referee's room in the fieldhouse, adding a canopy over the concession area, new parking, a recycled asphalt walkway from the ticket booth to the bleachers, replacing a fence on either side of the fieldhouse, adding a concrete pad and planter for a future statue at the field's entrance near the ticket booth, the addition of flagpoles, concrete footings and in-ground up-lighting and, finally, brick paving in areas from the entrance to the bleachers.

Public hearing on capital improvements

The school board will hold a public hearing from 6 to 8 p.m. this Monday at the A. A. Roberty Building, 102 S. Hickory Ave. in Bel Air, to give a chance to community members to make comments and provide input as capital priorities are developed.

In anticipation of the meeting, Laura Runyeon, president of Youth's Benefit Elementary School's PTA, and Paul MacMillan, who were there on behalf of the support organization Build It Now, both made pleas to the board to move forward with plans to rebuild Youth's Benefit's older of two buildings.

Runyeon and representatives of Build It Now have spoken at school board meetings in the past to encourage the board to make Youth's Benefit a top priority on its capital improvement projects list.

"Our children are depending on us," Runyeon said to board members. MacMillan said it would be "prudent to move forward" with the project instead of possibly waiting three or four more budget cycles to take action.

In a similar vein, Havre de Grace City Councilman David Glenn sent letters to The Aegis and The Record this week asking residents to attend Monday's hearing to request a new Havre de Grace High School building.

"Strength in numbers will send a strong message that it is on our radar screen and therefore, needs to be on their radar screen," Glenn wrote. "It will also give us the opportunity to stress that we want our kids to have the same opportunity for educational success as other schools throughout the county."

The letter stated Havre de Grace High School has "the oldest standing high school building in the county," as well as "security concerns and facility infrastructure challenges."

In May, the Harford County Council voted to remove funding to replace the high school from 2014 to 2016. Craig was also criticized by the council for revising the school system's priority list, as HHS had been below other new school construction projects, such as Youth's Benefit and Homestead-Wakefield in Bel Air.

Craig then threatened not to fund school projects for the next three years if a new Havre de Grace High School wasn't funded. He has since reiterated that he won't back down.

On the phone Thursday morning, Glenn explained he will be at the entire hearing at Mayor Wayne Dougherty's request.

The hearing is the same night as a Havre de Grace city council meeting.

Council President Randy Craig, son of the county executive, will attend the beginning of the hearing, Glenn said, before going to the council meeting.

"I've always been actively involved in the community," Glenn said. The city councilman was former PTA president of Meadowvale Elementary and helped advocate of the school's renovations, as well. "We've waited patiently."