School funding plan called a 'slap in the face' for Lansdowne

After Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz proposed funding this week for new high schools in Towson and the central-northeast area, an advocate for a new Lansdowne High School called it a “slap in the face.”

“We’ve been asking for years to help us, to help our high schools,” said Dayana Bergman, whose son will be a freshman at Lansdowne next year. “Yes, you added to areas that needed it, but you just bumped us off completely.”

The Lansdowne community has long fought for either a new high school or significant renovations. In a survey of school buildings done several years ago, Lansdowne High was considered one of the most deteriorated in the county.

“After numerous meetings with education experts and community leaders, it is clear that Baltimore County needs to alleviate overcrowding in the Towson area, as well as the central-northeast corridor,” Kamenetz said in a statement that announced the proposed funding.

A cost estimate for the two schools is not yet available, Ellen Kobler, a county spokeswoman, said.

The school system projects that Towson High will be 456 students over state-rated capacity by 2026. The same projection indicates that two schools in the central-northeast corridor of the county also face overcrowding — Dulaney High School by 188 students and Perry Hall High School by 234 students.

Lansdowne High School, with a capacity of 1,440 students, is slightly under capacity at 1,338 students, according to the school system. In the years 2021 through 2026, the school system projects it will be over capacity by as many as 92 students.

"Baltimore County has taken a strategic approach with its elementary and middle school construction program that prioritized schools with serious overcrowding,” Kobler said in an email. "That same criteria will be used as the County enters into the high school phase of Schools for our Future,” the county’s billion-dollar, 10-year construction and renovation program.

"Using that metric, a new school for Lansdowne would be years down the road because there are enrollment issues in other areas of the county that must be addressed first,” Kobler wrote.

Kobler said that Lansdowne High is on track for a "state-of-the-art systemic renovation” to be completed by 2020, "several years before even the first of the two new high schools will be ready.”

Bergman said that before Kamenetz’s announcement, she was willing to compromise and work with the county on renovations. But she said the proposals thus far have been inadequate and did not address problems, such as worn plumbing or air quality.

In March, the school board voted down a $30 million proposal to renovate the school, seeking additional funding to make the proposed renovations more extensive, which essentially put the project on hold.

“Currently, a new design, based on a revised scope as approved by the Board of Education, is being drafted for Lansdowne High School,” Alyssa Alston, a school system spokeswoman, said in an email. “Once the new design is complete and there is an assessment of cost and feedback from the community, the project will be rebid.”

Seeing that two schools would be built elsewhere in the county, Bergman said, strengthened her resolve to ask for more.

"I don’t really trust this renovation anymore,” she said. "I want a new building. I don’t want to wait 15, 16, eight years for it. I want a new building. I want construction to start, 2020.”

Bergman plans to gather a group from Lansdowne to attend next Tuesday’s school board meeting. “I will talk for my three minutes,” she said.

In a Facebook post with more than 250 shares, Bergman collected 13 photos from around the school, submitted to her by current students. The photos, which have not been independently verified, show peeling paint, large cracks in a classroom floor, water damaged ceilings, brown water coming from a drinking fountain and a thermometer inside the school hitting 90 degrees.

Bergman called the building a health hazard and said the need is urgent. As for her own son, she said, if the building has not been updated by the time he is a freshman, she plans to find another way to educate him.

“I’m not gonna risk my son’s health,” Bergman said. “My son will not set foot in that building."

Margarita Cambest contributed reporting.

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