Joppatowne High School

Many people showing support for Joppatowne High School wait patiently to speak at the board of education meeting Monday. (Nicole Munchel | Aegis staff, Patuxent Homestead / September 11, 2012)

Pleas for new school buildings, especially a new Havre de Grace High School, were the focus of Monday night's Harford County Board of Education meeting, while board members questioned the school construction process.

The board discussed amendments to its original request for the 2014 capital budget that would ask the state for $6.6 million toward Youth's Benefit Elementary and $3.7 million for Havre de Grace High School. A handful of Havre de Grace city officials attended Monday's business meeting to push the case for a new building in their community, while parents and PTSA representatives also asked for a better Youth's Benefit Elementary School, Joppatowne High School and John Archer School.

The complaints were relatively similar, with speakers spending about 90 minutes trying to prove that their particular school is especially out-of-date.

The board expects to take action Sept. 24.

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James Thornton and Robert Frisch said they were unhappy with the entire process of prioritizing the school construction, calling it "broken."

"What has evolved here is a very political process, and there is an elephant in the room and we don't really want to talk about the fact that as a board, we are compromised," Thornton said.

"This whole prioritization problem is broken and I think unless we fundamentally come up with some way to depoliticize the process in a way that's fair," he said, noting that was the idea with the comprehensive facilities study.

"And yet we say, 'OK, we'll complete that over the next couple of years but in the interim, let's do this. And I, quite frankly, am bothered by this entire process," Thornton said.

Thornton said it is "unhealthy" to pit one community against another and he plans to speak more on the issue on Sept. 24.

Frisch said he is as frustrated as the audience with the process, which he thinks is broken.

"I don't want this board to be a party in this broken process," he said.

For that to happen, the board and the county council, at least, need to agree, which he said has not happened.

Frisch also said he is confused by the fact that the board has not seen the scope study on Havre de Grace High, but is nevertheless being asked to vote on the project.

"This doesn't make any sense to me," he said, visibly frustrated.

Board member Rick Grambo wondered about the need to replace school buildings so quickly and asked how long the buildings are expected to last.

"This process has kind of exposed perhaps some design flaws of the buildings," he said. "What are we doing to make sure the new buildings aren't going to be in need of replacement well before the bricks and mortar wear out and fall down?"

"It seems silly to constantly tear down buildings that were meant to last 100 years and wear out after 40 or 50 years," Grambo said. "Something's gotta change. What are we doing here?"

Joe Licata, chief of administration, said the buildings are designed for 50 or 60 years, not 100 or 200, because with items like the "advent of technology" and "special ed changes," buildings need to be updated.

"The state recognized those and developed this term of modernization," he said. "If you look through the history of our capital program, there was a shift in pure renovation problems to this concept of modernizing."

"We don't build a school to last 200 years. I'm not sure that's possible if you have to incorporate all those changes that need to take place on each side," he said.