Progress continues in planning for two new Havre de Grace schools

Havre de Grace City Council President David Glenn is getting more excited about the new combined middle and high school in the city and other possibilities it could bring.

With the school system moving forward on the new building, Glenn said he and Mayor Bill Martin met several weeks ago with Harford County Executive Barry Glassman to discuss what will happen to the existing gymnasium and auditorium on Congress Avenue once the new school is built.

"No decision was made, but the message I took away from that was that the path forward is still happening," Glenn said at Monday night's city council meeting. "We're getting excited, and I know a shovel will be in the ground sooner rather than later. We're really excited."

Building a new combined middle and high school took root during the administration of then-Harford County Executive David Craig, a Havre de Grace native and resident. Craig and the school system made the project a priority, but shortly after Glassman took office in late 2014, he put the project on hold he said until the county could reign in spending and get the county in a better financial position.

But Glassman, who like Craig is an HHS graduate, eventually put the new school back on track. In the current fiscal year's budget, Glassman put in $38 million of the new school's estimated $100 million cost.

Construction is expected to begin next spring and the school could be complete by 2020, a school system official said.

Glenn said he wants to look at keeping the existing gym and auditorium, rather than have them torn down. The new school will be built on the existing middle school grounds.

The city doesn't want responsibility for the old building, Glenn said, but he wants to make sure it's not just torn down without giving consideration to continued use.

"Because so much money has been put into it, I hate to see it just torn down," he said.

The contract includes demolition for the old school buildings once the new facility is built and in use.

The site of the auditorium and gymnasium will be returned to a flat, grassy area, according to Jose[ph Licata, chief of administration for Harford County Public Schools.

The older classroom building on the other side of Congress Avenue will be torn down and converted to a parking lot to serve nearby James R. Harris Stadium.

A spokesperson for Harford County said it's worthwhile to look into keeping the auditorium/gym building.

"The mayor had expressed interest in possibly keeping the building standing and possibly repurposed, we thought it made sense to get everyone in the room," Cindy Mumby said.

"After all, this is an existing asset, funded by taxpayers. If there can be other use for it, it's worth having conversation," she said.

Were the county to determine if there would be a use for the building, the school system is required by law to decide it's no longer needed for educational purposes, Licata said. Then it would be declared surplus by the school board and turned over to the county, which can then dispose of the property, repurpose it or sell it, among several things.

Glenn suggested the county parks and recreation department could take it over so programs such as basketball, indoor soccer and wrestling can continue in there.

While those activities could be held in the new school, Glenn said parks and rec wouldn't have to work around the schools' schedules to hold events there.

"Harford County Public Schools, their priority comes first," he said.

Were it owned by parks and rec, that wouldn't be a factor, he added.

Mumby said the county's facilities and operations department is analyzing the structure and preparing a report, looking at the cost to maintain and operate the building as well as potential structural issues it could be facing.

Because demolition would follow the new school's opening, the county has time to look into this, she said.

Nothing was decided at the meeting with Glassman, Glenn said.

"We don't know the end result, but it's like eating an elephant, you take one bite at a time," Glenn said. "But that it's being discussed, it means the project is moving forward."

Project status

The school system is preparing bid documents for two possible construction methods for the new high and middle that will be advertised concurrently, according to Licata.

One is the "traditional" design-bid-build strategy that has typically been used for new schools, where an architect has designed the new facility based on the school system's program requirements; the project is publicly bid, then the contract(s) are awarded for construction at a set price.

The other is a "design/build" strategy, where various entities provide a design and construction method to build the school to the school system's program requirements. They will provide the design services, construction services and construction management for a guaranteed maximum price.

"Our thought process is to determine the strategy that provides the best value and quality at the lowest cost," Licata wrote in an email.

The tentative schedule is to advertise and select proposals from design/build firms in October and receive bids for the traditional design-bid-build in the November, he said. The school system will do a side-by-side analysis to recommend an award to the firm that best meets the goals of the project at the best value and price.

Once that has been determined, contracts will be awarded and ground would be broken sometime in the spring of 2018, Licata said.

The project would be completed and ready for occupancy in September 2020, with demolition and site restoration across the street to occur during the months after the new building is occupied.

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