The proposed new Havre de Grace High and Middle School advanced another step earlier this week when the Harford County Board of Education approved the basic educational specifications for the 240,000-square-foot complex, to be built adjacent to the existing middle school off of Lewis Lane.
Next up for the project is the final design development phase, which will take approximately three months, followed by preparation of construction documents scheduled to be completed in March, according to a tentative timetable for the project, whose estimated cost is $86,801,000.
School officials plan to give the public a first look at what the school will look like during a preview of schematic drawings on Aug. 13 at the Havre de Grace High auditorium from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. The drawings were not available as of late Wednesday afternoon.
Construction could begin as early as July 2015, with completion and occupancy by August 2018, but all that is contingent on necessary funding being in place, Joseph Licata, school system chief of administration, said. There is no state or county funding approved for construction, he confirmed.
"I am pleased to be at this point," Thomas Fitzpatrick, a school board member, said. Fitzpatrick, a Havre de Grace resident, noted that when he joined the board in 2012, a number of people from elected officials to other school officials told him what was initially a plan to replace the high school "was not going to happen."
Instead, he said, thanks to the efforts of the school community and supporters in various levels of government, the proposal was reworked to include replacing two schools in one, received subsequent state approval last winter and also moved into the number two priority in Harford's school construction program.
"I have talked to a lot of students the past few weeks and they are looking forward to the next step," Hannah Jones, the board's student representative, said.
The board received a nearly two-hour briefing on the specifications before voting, 6-1, to approve them Monday evening. Two board members, Francis "Rick" Grambo and Cassandra Beverley, were excused absences.
Though a few board members expressed some reservations about different aspects of the project, only Robert Frisch voted against the motion to adopt the specifications.
The specifications approved Monday envision a school with an enrollment of 1,300 students, consisting of 550 in middle school grades 6-8, another 600 high school students in grades 9-12 and 150 in a computer science magnet program that would draw students from around the county.
The basic model for the new school is the Patterson Mill High and Middle School south of Bel Air that opened in 2007. The Havre de Grace school plan, however, will have taken into account changes in standards and other necessary modifications in the interim period, Licata said.
Although the specifications state that "core areas [of the new school] will be sized to future growth of 1,600 students," Licata repeatedly stressed during the presentation and afterward that the new school will be designed "to accommodate 1,300 students."
A number of questions were asked about how much space the magnet program would occupy: about 2,400 square feet encompassing two computer labs, or about 10 percent of the total gross square footage of the complex. Rob Limpert, supervisor of business, technical and magnet programs, explained grants would most likely be used for some of the program's initial operating costs.
According to the educational specifications, it is anticipated that 53 high school and 40 middle school teachers will work at the new school. Administrative and support staff will number about 70, with a student to teacher ratio of 13.9 to 1 and a support staff to student ratio of 18.7 to one.
Unlike Patterson Mill, which has a single principal for all seven grades, the Havre de Grace school would have separate principals for high school and for middle school with two assistant principals each.
Board member James Thornton questioned why Havre de Grace would be different than Patterson Mill, but Joseph Schmitz, executive director of middle/high school instruction and performance, told him to think of the new building "as two different schools under one roof."
"It is a hardship to have a single principal, particularly because the schools have different schedules, and because of the requirements for principals to evaluate teachers," Schmitz explained, without volunteering if Patterson Mill will eventually have a second principal.
Among other highlights in the specifications:
• The school will have a 5,800-square-foot family and consumer sciences section for high school students, twin foundations of technology areas for high and middle students and an 8,890 square foot media center.
• There will be an 8,890-square-foot music section to include separate practice areas for bands and choruses and a piano lab and practice rooms and a small resource room.
• The main gymnasium will be 10,790 square feet with bleacher seating for 1,300 spectators. An auxiliary gym for the middle school and for team practice will be 6,340 square feet with bleacher seating for 200. There will be separate weight and fitness rooms for the high and middle schools. The entire physical education area, including the gyms, training rooms and locker rooms will encompass 32,380 square feet.
• The school will have a 10,000 square foot auditorium with floor and balcony seating for 1,000, plus a 4,000-square-foot stage and a 1,200-square-foot backstage area and 1,200-square-foot storage area. There will also be a 1,200-square-foot black box theater with seating for 250. The total performing arts area will encompass 19,030 square feet.
• Students will continue to attend their respective schools while the new school is being built and once it is occupied, the existing classroom building on the north side of Congress Avenue will be demolished, with the specifications recommending a parking lot be built on that site to serve the nearby Harris Stadium.
The plan is to keep the existing high school gym and auditorium on the south side of Congress Avenue, according to Licata, who said no specific future use has been decided for them.
Frisch said he remains concerned about the school system's priorities, especially building new schools when total enrollment is declining and teachers and other employees are experiencing stagnant wages.
He also questioned some of the population growth projections used in the specifications to determine the expected capacity of the new school and said consideration should be given to reconfiguring Harford Tech or using space in an existing school if a new magnet program is needed, "and not exacerbate transportation problems and drive that cost up."
"It comes down to the funding – what do we spend our money and our resources on," Frisch said.
"I'm not saying that Havre de Grace doesn't need another school, but the question is about having it now," he said.
Among those speaking on behalf of the project during the briefing and or in the short formal meeting that followed were Havre de Grace City Councilman David Glenn, Michael Hitchings who is a candidate for the Havre de Grace seat on the school board in the upcoming general election – running against Fitzpatrick and Havre de Grace resident Phil Powell.
Others attending from the community included Havre de Grace Police Chief Teresa Walter and the two candidates for the Havre de Grace area seat on the Harford County Council, Democrat Joseph Smith and Republican Curtis Beulah.
Ryan Burbey, president of the county teachers union, spoke against the project, as he has throughout the planning process, saying priorities are wrong.
"We can't get the [school] system we want until we have the system we need," he said. "We have to get past the [teacher] wage issue. How do we move forward? How do you expand when you can't pay teachers?"