Board of Education postpones Lansdowne contract decision to May 8

The Board of Education voted Tuesday night to postpone its decision on whether to move forward with a $60 million renovation for Lansdowne High School until its next meeting May 8.

The board debated for more than an hour over the renovation, which has been controversial because it would take the school out of the running for a total replacement, something some vocal community advocates have said it sorely needs.

The core of Tuesday’s debate was whether rejecting the contract, which the Baltimore County Public Schools system says would get Lansdowne a renovation by 2020, would delay or totally give up the school’s chance at improvement for its aging facilities.

The board was scheduled to vote to move forward on the contract and select a contractor. If it votes to move forward with the renovation May 8, Pete Dixit, facilities management director, estimates construction could start this summer.

Nick Stewart, who represents Lansdowne’s district on the board, made a motion to amend the contract vote, to put a replacement school for Lansdowne on the county’s capital plan and to re-allocate funds intended for the renovation, using them instead to move forward on a replacement.

Stewart — along with the area’s representative on the County Council, Tom Quirk — supported the plan for the renovation when it was outlined late last year.

But after County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced support for a new Dulaney High School in Timonium, Quirk and Stewart expressed outrage that the northern part of the county was being targeted for resources at the expense of the southwest area.

The renovation process, Stewart said at Tuesday’s board meeting, “was poisoned by our county executive.”

The board’s debate comes as the county wrestles with the interconnected future of three aging high schools: Lansdowne, Dulaney and Towson.

Each school has maintenance problems and has vocal advocates for a replacement. Towson High School also is projected to be severely overcrowded at more than 700 students over its state-rated capacity of 1,260 seats by 2026.

Kamenetz announced in September that he would include planning money for two new high schools in his fiscal year 2019 budget — one, he said, would be Towson. The other school, he announced, would be a school in the central-northeast part of the county, in order to alleviate overcrowding in that area.

Though the Lansdowne community expressed anger at that decision, Stewart and Quirk insisted that given the enrollment projections — at its peak in 2024, Lansdowne is expected to be 141 students over capacity — the best Lansdowne could hope for is a renovation.

Then Kamenetz announced in February that the second school he would include planning money in the budget for would be Dulaney, a school that at its peak in 2026 is projected to grow to only 70 students over capacity.

After the Dulaney announcement, Lansdowne’s representatives changed course, saying if Dulaney gets a new school, Lansdowne should as well. Stewart said Tuesday at the board meeting that when he changed course on Dulaney, Kamenetz “misled” the county.

“We have a chance to get it right,” Stewart said, as he asked the board to move forward on a replacement for Lansdowne. “I’m asking us earnestly to do that.”

In Kamenetz’s proposed budget last week, he included $30 million in planning money for two new schools, but left it up to the Board of Education to decide which schools to plan for.

In the three weeks between Tuesday and the next meeting, some board members, including Kathleen Causey and Julie Henn, said they will ask the school system questions about whether a move for replacement school is likely to succeed.

Dixit said the next board meeting is likely the last opportunity for the school board to approve the contract and keep construction on track to be completed by 2020.

“I will always be against the renovation,” said Sharon Saroff, a longtime advocate for a new Lansdowne High whose children graduated from the school, before the meeting. “That building needs to go away.”

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