Baltimore County school board to vote on high school renovations

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
Baltimore County to vote on high school renovations Tuesday, amidst strong opposition.

The Baltimore County school board is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to approve high school renovations that have been staunchly opposed by parents in Timonium and Lansdowne.

The more than $100 million in renovations planned for four high schools —Dulaney, Lansdowne, Woodlawn and Patapsco — would begin this summer.

Parents and community members at two of the schools want new buildings, not renovations they consider insufficient to modernize the half-century-old facilities. County council members and state legislators from northern Baltimore County oppose the work at Dulaney, as does the Dulaney PTA and the community association.

"I think it is throwing good money after bad," said Baltimore County Councilman Wade Kach, a Republican who represents the area. "We are not going to have a school building that will meet the current or future needs of the students at Dulaney."

The school board vote was originally scheduled for March 23 but was moved up to Tuesday, only a week after bid estimates were released, according to school board member Kathleen Causey. She said she wasn't given a reason for the change.

A subcommittee did not vote on the project, as is customary.

Causey and board member Julie Henn said they will vote against the Dulaney and Lansdowne renovations on Tuesday.

School board President Edward Gilliss defended the process. "Board members are keenly interested in the four renovation contracts and, in my eyes, having a committee of the whole is most efficient ... and in many ways, a more inclusive process," Gilliss said.

Bids for the renovations are from $29 million to $36 million for each school.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is spending $1.3 billion on school construction from 2010 to 2020. He plans to build 15 new elementary schools and put additions on 11 more.

"From the beginning of the process we openly stated what the scope of work would be for each of the four renovations," said Mychael Dickerson, a spokesman for the school district. "We also indicated once the bids came in, we would determine the way forward. We are following the process."

Kamenetz has been under political pressure from the governor and comptroller to air-condition all county schools quickly. The Board of Public Works withheld money for schools last year when the city and county refused to install portable air-conditioners in all schools without air-conditioning.

Many in the Dulaney and Lansdowne communities want the school board and the county executive to delay the renovations. Kach and others contend if the renovation budgets for Lansdowne and Dulaney were combined with state funding, the county could afford to build one new high school. A second high school could be built once the funds are available.

"We said, 'Put us five years out or 10 years out, but don't do this renovation,'" said Jim Melia, a Lansdowne technology teacher. "I don't know anyone who is happy about any of this. I think all the communities are disappointed."

Yara Cheikh, a parent of a Dulaney student, said the board should slow down the process and give each school what it needs. "If that delays the central air conditioning of some of these schools, so be it," she said. "We have one chance at the funding. It needs to be sufficient and comprehensive."

Critics say the renovations are far less expansive than those done in at other high schools in the county, including the recently completed work at Pikesville and Hereford. Both of those renovations cost more than $50 million, and included additions to the schools.

Dulaney has a much larger student body and is projected to be overcrowded by the time the work is completed. In a survey of school buildings done several years ago, Lansdowne High was considered one of the most deteriorated school buildings in the county.

"It is very concerning because there are so many needs in the community," Causey said. She said the distribution of money for renovations is not fair or equitable.

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