Community gets first look at Havre de Grace Middle/High replacement designs

While the Havre de Grace residents who attended Wednesday evening's first public viewing of schematic designs for the Havre de Grace Middle/High School replacement were excited to see the long-desired project move ahead, they also expressed concerns about the impact on the neighborhood.

"I think this probably will make Lewis Lane one of the busiest streets, if not the busiest street, in Havre de Grace," John Narvell, who lives on Lewis Lane, said.

Narvell and his wife, Carolyn, were among about 50 people, including Havre de Grace city leaders, Harford County Public Schools officials and Board of Education members, who attended a public information session Wednesday evening at the Havre de Grace High School auditorium.

They got their first look at schematic drawings of the proposed 240,000-square-foot combined middle and high school that will replace the aging school facilities. The main entrance for the $86.8 million facility will be off Lewis Lane across from the intersection with Anderson Avenue.

"This is one of the most exciting points in the design process, quite frankly, when we get to see what the building might look like," Ariana Langford, facilities planner for Harford County Public Schools, said.

The school is being designed for 1,300 students in grades six through 12, including 550 local middle school students and 600 local high schoolers, plus 200 more from the local community and throughout the county participating in a computer science magnet program.

School officials have said portions of the school will be designed to accommodate the potential growth of the student body to nearly 1,600.

School system officials also expect 40 middle school teachers and 53 high school teachers will work at the school, along with a middle school principal, high school principal, four assistant principals and about 70 administrative and support staffers.

The main entrance would be off Lewis Lane, and the parking area and playing fields in front of the building will go where the middle school, built in 1967, stands today.

It will be built near the Havre de Grace Activity Center, which is operated by the Harford County Department of Parks and Recreation, and the architects and school officials stressed to the audience the design is being developed with the community's use of the activity center and playing fields in mind.

Residents, including several parents of children who would be able to attend the school if it opens in time for the 2017-2018 school year, expressed concerns about having all of the school's vehicle and bus traffic along the two-lane Lewis Lane, as well as having enough parking for events at the school and games at the activity center.

The design for the site, which incorporates the ongoing flood control project along Lilly Run, includes a walking trail connecting Lewis Lane to Juniata Street and the current high school's James R. Harris Stadium.

Karen Burlingame of Grimm and Parker, the lead architect for the project, noted it would be "cost prohibitive" to have a second entrance from Juniata Street and access to the school across Lilly Run.

Other residents and city officials thanked the planners for designing a school that fits the city's historic character and is needed in the community.

The drawings show a single three-story building, with two wings separated by a covered walkway, built on land that is being used for playing fields behind Havre de Grace Middle School.

The site, the majority of which is along the railroad tracks, extends from Lewis Lane to Juniata Street and includes a portion covered by the current high school site on both sides of the 700 block of Congress Avenue.

The current high school and middle school would be demolished once the replacement school is occupied, though Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations for Harford schools, said plans call for the demolition of the high school auditorium and gymnasium on Congress Avenue, but school officials hope to work with the city and county to transfer it to either jurisdiction for another use with school board approval.

"We know that it has meaning to the community, so we would like to present options to our board beyond demolition," Brown said.

The members of the Harford County Board of Education voted 6-1 Aug. 4 in favor of educational specifications for the project.

Harford County Public Schools officials will spend the next three months going through the final portion of design development, and they plan to finish construction documents in March. School officials hope to obtain construction funding during the 2015-2016 fiscal year, and construction is expected to take about two years.

Burlingame said the school is being designed with middle school and high school classrooms in separate wings, but there will be common areas such as the dining area and the entrance.

James Reynolds, principal of HHS, stressed that having middle and high school students together at Patterson Mill Middle and High School south of Bel Air, which is the model for Havre de Grace, has worked, and he said there would be many opportunities for middle school students to have positive interactions with high school students and faculty members and "have a successful transition to high school."

"This is a great opportunity to enhance our middle school students," he said. "It's worked out for Patterson Mill; it'll work out for us," he said.

Reynolds also said that with the number of proposed parking spaces "it's going to be like parking at M&T Bank Stadium."

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