Designs for new Havre de Grace High approved by Harford school board

Replacement of the aging Havre de Grace Middle and High School, which one school board member called a "dream come true," reached a significant milestone Monday night, when Harford County Board of Education members voted 6-2 to approve the proposed schematic designs for the $86.8 million project.

Board Vice President Francis "Rick" Grambo and board member Robert Frisch voted against approving the designs, and board member Joseph Hau was absent.

Board member Thomas Fitzpatrick, who represents the Havre de Grace area, said the project is "a dream come true to a lot of people."

The designs were presented to the public during a forum in the Havre de Grace High School auditorium last week. While most of the people who attended were pleased with the designs for the long-desired replacement, several residents said they are concerned about traffic around the combined middle and high school.

The 240,000-square-foot school will be built facing Lewis Lane, and separate entrances for cars and school buses are both off Lewis.

Board member Cassandra Beverley echoed those traffic concerns.

Lead architect Karen Burlingame, of Grimm and Parker, told board members that because of the ongoing flood control and stream restoration project in the Lilly Run stream, which crosses the campus, construction of additional access to the campus from Juniata Street would add about $1 million to the cost of the project.

Superintendent Barbara Canavan praised efforts to design the exterior of the school, which will have a capacity for 1,300 middle and high school students, including 200 for a computer science magnet program, in a manner that reflects Havre de Grace's history and culture as a maritime and industrial community.

"That sense of warmth is important to the community but it also extends itself to our kids," Canavan said.

Frisch said after the meeting he is concerned about building a school for 1,300 students when other schools around the county have excess capacity, as well as about the costs of an additional magnet program and a lack of space for vocational instruction.

The school will have a computer sciences magnet program drawing students from around the county, while about 6,000 square feet of the building, about 2.5 percent, will be dedicated to technical/vocational education spaces, according to the schematic design adopted Monday.

Frisch said he is not opposed to a new school for Havre de Grace, but he is concerned about "that particular design at this particular time."

Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations, said the designs must be submitted to the state by Sept. 1 to qualify for construction funding during the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

The current timetable calls for construction to begin in the summer of 2015 with completion by the start of the 2018-19 school year.

More YBES contracts

Two more contracts also were approved by the school Monday as part of the replacement of Youth's Benefit Elementary School in Fallston, $10.5 million for site work from Dixie Construction Co. Inc. and $2.5 for drywall from Finishes Inc.

Those two contracts were rebid for "better results" in June, when the school board approved $23.9 million in contracts for the new 149,000-square-foot school, which is scheduled to be completed and open for the 2017-2018 school year.

The total cost of the new school, including equipment, is about $43 million.

Approved in June were a $1.6 million concrete contract with Mumford & Miller Concrete Inc. of Middletown, Del.; a $3.2 million masonry contract with Karon Masonry Inc. of Beltsville; a $1.8 million steel contract with Strait Steel Inc. of Greencastle, Pa.; a $3.9 million general carpentry contract with MRP Contractors LLC of Baltimore; a $960,145 roofing contract with Orndorff & Spaid Inc. of Beltsville; a $689,695 storefront/curtain wall contract with ECP Ltd.; an $8.2 million mechanical contract with Rommel Cranston Service of Linthicum; and a $3.3 million contract with Crown Electric, according to documents provided by school officials.

Also Monday, board members unanimously approved several contracts for school capital improvements as part of their consent agenda, including a $154,000 contract with KIBART Inc. for design services related to renovating the HVAC system at Darlington Elementary School and a $316,345 design contract with Burdette, Koehler, Murphy & Associates Inc. to renovate the HVAC system at Dublin Elementary School.

Capital funding

Approval of the capital budget contracts sparked a discussion among school board members and school officials, who are developing a $95.1 million funding request from the county and state for capital projects during FY2016. The Capital Improvement Program includes two new schools, technology upgrades and replacement vehicles, among other projects.

School board members are scheduled to vote on the capital improvement program in September; school system staffers for operations and facilities have been presenting updates on the request to the board during the summer.

School officials project that $18.1 million in state funds and $77.02 million in county funds are needed, but one board member said he is concerned about asking for such a large sum when the school system has received significantly less capital money than requested from Harford County in recent years.

"My question would be, what are the alternatives that we as a board or a district should be dealing with to address our capital needs?" board member James Thornton asked.

School system officials and several of Thornton's colleagues on the board vigorously defended making the full capital request, however. Thornton, a Democrat, is running for Harford County Council President on the November general election ballot.

"It was just our strategy to identify what we believe is required to support the students, to support the various programs, and from there the fiscal authorities, as they have in the past, identify the levels of funding that they would approve," Brown explained.

Joe Licata, chief of administration, added: "This is not a case where we can cut expenses. These are projected expenses; these are going to be based on failures of equipment, of infrastructure, of buildings, that we'll have no choice at that time but to fix."

Licata said officials would have to close school facilities to fix those failures.

Grambo said school officials must "start talking about an alternate way to deliver instruction," such as online education.

"Why not have the people that are good at education come up with some alternative ideas, where we don't have to invest $100 million in infrastructure, where we can do something else?" he asked. "I don't have all the answers, but it just drives me crazy that we just sit here and hurl ourselves against walls."

Several board members stressed that the school system must make government officials and the public aware of the infrastructure needs.

"If we're going to make education a priority in this county, we cannot remain silent about our capital needs," board member Arthur Kaff said.

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