The engineers who designed Lansdowne High School’s proposed $60 million renovation presented their work and answered a barrage of questions at a Board of Education meeting late last month.
Next Thursday, after a 5 p.m. Lansdowne High PTSA meeting at the school, Baltimore County will bring that presentation to the community, offering an opportunity for public input.
If the school board approves the project in April, the project as planned will be “substantially completed” by August 2020, engineers said in the presentation.
County officials who represent the southwest area that Lansdowne serves, including Councilman Tom Quirk and school board member Nick Stewart, have championed the proposed renovation, calling it an opportunity for the community to have what they said will feel like a brand new school.
Some opponents of the renovation, however, have said that it will not fix all of the aging school’s problems, and will take Lansdowne out of the running for a new building.
The school board peppered engineer John DiMenna of Rubeling and Associates and his team with questions about the community’s many specific concerns about the building, asking for each problem whether the renovation would solve it.
Here’s a look at some of the key issues:
Stewart asked first about the most dramatic rumor: that the school’s building is sinking into a neighboring pond.
“There is no evidence that the building has shifted toward the pond,” DiMenna said.
The concern stems from a large crack in the music room, which is located on the ground floor of the school, close to the pond.
Dave Kozera, a structural engineer, said the settlement occurred because the classroom was built on top of soil that was dug up and filled back in, and therefore not as solid as natural soil.
A previous project in 2000 installed helical piles — essentially large screws that anchor buildings in deeper, more solid natural soil.
Investigators, Kozera said, determined that not enough helical piles were put in place in 2000. The renovation will solve that problem by adding them throughout the music room, he said.
Advocates for a new school, including teacher Jim Melia, have pointed to cracks and bowing in walls in the rest of the building as evidence that the rest of the structure is also settling.
DiMenna, however, said engineers tested the affected areas for evidence the building was moving, and “none was found.”
All areas of concern, DiMenna said, are either “sound” or “can be fixed” by the renovation.
“You guys are willing to base your reputation on that conclusion, that this is going to be shored up?” Stewart asked last month.
“I am,” DiMenna said.
The renovation would include a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, DiMenna said, improving air flow and going “a long way to addressing mold in the building.”
In areas of the building that currently have mold, he said, most surfaces would be entirely replaced, while permanent fixtures such as masonry would be cleaned.
As for asbestos, Pete Dixit, director of the school system’s facilities department, said that like every other building, Lansdowne High has an asbestos management plan, and will take necessary precautions to remove it while children are not in the building.
As part of the renovation, DiMenna said, all asbestos would be removed.
The renovation as planned will not increase the size of existing classrooms, which some community members have previously said are too small.
At a Nov. 21 school board meeting, Stewart brought up classroom sizes to DiMenna, who said that all but four classrooms are within the state recommended range of between 600 and 800 square feet.
The renovation, DiMenna said, would add two new classrooms: One on the second floor of an entry addition would be 900 square feet, and another on the first floor would be 850 square feet.
Community members have, in the past, also expressed concern about overcrowding, citing a report that predicts that Lansdowne will be more than 90 students over capacity by the year 2023.
The school system’s Accountability and Performance Management Officer, Russell Brown, said that the addition of two new classrooms will cut that number by half, and that after 2023, enrollment is projected to decline.
With seven level changes on the first floor, Lansdowne High is not currently accessible for students with disabilities.
“We don’t get students in wheelchairs,” Ken Miller, Lansdowne’s principal, told the board last month. “If students are in wheelchairs permanently, they are assigned to another school that can handle ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] issues.”
The renovation as planned would add two ramps, two lifts and two elevators to the school. School officials said that as planned, the renovation will bring the building into full ADA compliance.
School board member Ann Miller, who opposes the renovation, said she was concerned that there might not be enough time between classes for students with disabilities to navigate what could be a complex set of lifts and ramps.
“That’s an instructional decision the principal can address,” Kevin Smith, chief administrative and operations officer for the school system, said, saying that the school can alter those students’ schedules or offer them extra time between classes.
Water and leaks
In September, an advocate for a new high school, parent Dayana Bergman, posted a photo, which was not independently verified, of brown water coming from a Lansdowne High drinking fountain. The school has water coolers in the hallways for students to use.
Various water leaks have also been reported in past years, from the locker rooms to the auditorium.
DiMenna said the renovation would fix these problems by replacing pipes as well as the roof.
Surfaces that were previously water damaged, such ceiling tiles, will be replaced, he said.
“The only things the renovation is not touching are the steel frame, the concrete slab on grade, the new frame, the new windows,” DiMenna said. “All systems within the building — plumbing, mechanical, electrical, [information technology] — they’re all being touched."