About 150 Harford County residents, many of them advocating for new school buildings in Fallston, Havre de Grace and Abingdon, packed a Harford County Board of Education hearing in Bel Air Monday night.
A number of local elected officials also attended the hearing, whose purpose was to give the school board members public input about new school construction needs and priorities for the 2014 fiscal year capital improvements program.
Members of Build It Now, a community organization advocating for new Youth's Benefit and William Paca elementary school buildings in Fallston and Abingdon, respectively, as well as other school renovation projects, were recognizable by their signature green shirts.
Supporters of a new Havre de Grace High School were also easy to identify from their school color maroon and white shirts.
Two young people stood outside the board room handing out buttons for the two sides. "It's our turn" buttons were given out for Havre de Grace High School and "Build It Now YBES" went to Youth's Benefit supporters.
Board of Education members didn't sit on their dais as usual, but were in the audience. Former Board of Education member and retired Havre de Grace High teacher Don Osman sat with other Havre de Grace High School supporters. Among the elected officials present were County Councilman Joe Woods, who represents Fallston and Abingdon; State Sen. Barry Glassman, a Havre de Grace High graduate; Havre de Grace City Council President Randy Craig; and Havre de Grace City Councilman David Glenn.
Before public comment began, Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent of operations, explained the capital improvement program to the eager crowd and the factors that impact the school system's decisions.
Brown made note of the current priorities in the capital program, which are new heating ventilation and air condition, or HVAC, systems for Magnolia Middle, North Harford Elementary and Norrisville Elementary schools, a roof replacement for George D. Lisby Elementary School and stadium upgrades at Joppatowne High School.
Brown said the board is expected to take final action during its Sept. 24 meeting to adopt a capital budget that can then advance to the state for consideration.
What Harford's leaders have to say
The politicians spoke first.
County government spokesman Bob Thomas read a letter from County Executive David Craig advising the board to fund his school priorities. The full text is published on Page A12.
Craig wrote he plans to include new buildings for Havre de Grace High School and Youth's Benefit Elementary School in the county's fiscal year 2014 capital budget and new buildings for William Paca/Old Post Road and Homestead-Wakefield elementary schools in the 2016 budget.
City Councilman Randy Craig, who is David Craig's son and, like the county executive, is a Havre de Grace High graduate, also advocated for a new high school in his city.
As an elected official, Randy Craig said, he and other representatives have the "responsibility to protect the health, safety, welfare and quality of life for its residents."
Glenn said there are safety concerns with the school because of the two buildings on the campus, which is separated by Congress Avenue, and one building remaining unlocked.
"We can no longer afford to take that risk," he said.
Glassman, who is expected to run for county executive in 2014, said he wasn't there to tell the school board "how and where to place these schools on the project list because that's your job and I respect that."
Glassman, however, urged the board to come up with a "predictable" capital improvement program that the state "can fund over time."
He added that whatever the board decides to go with as far as school construction, he and the other Harford County legislators will support them and work to secure state funding.