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Editorial: It's time to start rebuilding or substantially renovating a school building every year

At first glance, it may seem a bit petty for people in any community to complain that it's their turn for a replacement school, as happened earlier this week at a meeting of the advisory Abingdon Community Council. And for that sentiment to become the rallying cry for folks in Havre de Grace seeking a new high school.

From a very real perspective, however, just about every community in Harford County can legitimately claim one of its public school buildings needs to be replaced or renovated top to bottom. If the claim isn't legitimate this year, odds are it will be sometime in the next five to 10 years.

It's a matter of something most of us learned in an elementary school building: basic math.

The Harford County Public Schools system has more than 50 school buildings. The average useful life of a school building is 50 years. In round numbers, that means one school building should be re-built or overhauled every year. The school system hasn't followed that kind of schedule for major school building upgrades, so there are plenty of schools in the 40- to 50-plus range that need attention.

In Abingdon, the school that is the focus of attention is actually two school buildings: William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School. It may not be in dire need of replacement, but it certainly is of an age when decades of wear and tear start to show.

The same can be said of Havre de Grace High School. Similarly, Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston is more than a half century old, and there has been a community outcry in support of a replacement building for the school.

In recent years, the school system has rebuilt a lot of schools: Edgewood High, Bel Air High, Aberdeen High and North Harford High have been high profile and high cost projects, and the results are places of community pride. Unfortunately, the renovation projects are coming at a pace of one every two or three or four years, which puts the county on pace to be replacing school buildings every 100 years or so.

The logical thing for the school system to do is come up with a list of school buildings, newest to oldest, and start evaluating which ones are in the worst shape. After that, it's a matter of making sure there's money in the school system capital budget to rebuild, or substantially renovate, a school each year — or more — for as long as there are more than 50 school buildings in the county.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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