Of 52 public elementary, middle and high schools in Harford County, only one, Hickory Elementary north of Bel Air, is considered overcrowded by county adequate public facilities standards.
There's likely little relief in sight for the school, either, as school system enrollment projections show the overcrowding worsening over the next seven years.
Other than the overcrowding at Hickory, however, student distribution at Harford County Public Schools is destined to stay the same for the foreseeable future, as school enrollment numbers remain as predicted, school and county officials said last week.
The school system does not plan to redistrict any time soon and home construction is still much lower than in past years, county officials said during a meeting of the County's Adequate Public Facilities Advisory Board on May 29.
By county law, the Hickory Elementary School enrollment area remains the only one closed to new housing construction, as the school is still about 6 percent over capacity and is expected to be 110 percent over capacity by the 2015 academic year, with the forecast for enrollment at the school to climb to 113 percent of capacity by 2019. The law triggers new building restrictions if enrollment is projected to reach 110 percent within three years.
It's a problem county planning officials saw coming three years ago. Even as the school system was beginning a redistricting plan to redistribute some of the students at other crowded Bel Air area elementary schools in preparation of the 2011 opening of Red Pump Elementary in Bel Air, new housing developments continued to receive approval in the Hickory attendance area.
According to Harford County Public Schools' capacity and enrollment report published last December, with a capacity for 655 students, Hickory had 681 students at the start of the 2012-13 academic year last fall and was expected to have 695 students enrolled by the start of the new academic year at the end of this summer, 40 students more than capacity.
Middle and high schools are all less than full capacity, planning and zoning director Pete Gutwald told the other members of the advisory board in attendance, who were school board member Bob Frisch, school assistant superintendent for operations Joe Licata, deputy county treasurer Rick Pernas and the advisory board chairman County Councilman Dick Slutzky, who represents the Aberdeen and Churchville areas.
The number of new residential unit building permits has been hovering around the 600 mark since 2009, according to a chart from the Baltimore Metropolitan Council that was handed out by Gutwald. The numbers rose slightly in 2012 to 594, still lower than the 788 in 2008.
The county has 11.4 percent of all residential permits for the Baltimore region. (Anne Arundel County gets the most, with 27.9 percent, according to the report.)
Gutwald said the Hickory enrollment area was not generating much residential activity until recently, and the Church Creek enrollment area south of Aberdeen into Riverside has dropped off a bit in permit requests.
The Aberdeen and Bel Air high school areas have seen the most construction activity, according to Gutwald, who also said the area west of Edgewood served by Magnolia Elementary School has a lot of potential for building, even though schools there are not over capacity.
"I don't want people to be surprised if the economy picks up and those units start going," Gutwald said.
Havre de Grace is also an area with a lot of potential for future growth, he said.
"We were looking at Patterson Mill Middle at one point," Gutwald said about a potential need for a building moratorium and redistricting, but the planning director explained that building activity in the Bel Air South area has leveled off.
Licata said Patterson Mill "is still out there," with the high school hovering around 100 percent capacity and the middle school at about 90 percent.
Nevertheless, he added, "It looks like it's going to be some time before we have any need [there]."
The county school system has experienced net decreases in overall enrollment for several successive years. There were 37,686 students enrolled in the system in the fall of 2012, according to the school system's yearly enrollment reports, down from 38,222 in the fall of 2011 and 38,394 in 2010, the year before Red Pump Elementary opened.
This school year, the difference between total capacity and total enrollment is 6,298 seats, meaning about 86 percent of the seats are filled, according to the latest annual enrollment report.
Developers have a number of new projects in the preliminary stages, including close to 60 single family homes being proposed in Fallston and apartment developments of 200 more units planned in Fallston, Bel Air South and Abingdon, according to various filings with the county.