Proposed new school buildings in Fallston and Havre de Grace got a big push forward Tuesday, as the state agreed to fund the Youth's Benefit Elementary School replacement and recommended approval to replace Havre de Grace Middle/High School.
The Interagency Committee on school construction recommended putting about $13 million toward five projects, including the Youth's Benefit replacement that has long been lobbied for by Fallston residents.
The state's board of public works must still make the final approvals, which is expected to come in May, but local leaders were glad to hear of the positive recommendations.
Laura Runyeon, president of Youth's Benefit Parent Teacher Association, said the approval has been a long time coming.
"We were obviously hopeful that we would get the maximum amount of the state funding," she said. "To me it's just a real testament that all the parties came together and agreed that this project, which has been out there for 17 years, needed to be done."
"It's very exciting for us and we are pleased to see it get to this point," added Runyeon, who is a candidate for school board.
Design of the new elementary school is expected to start in the late summer or early fall.
"This has been a real testament to the engagement of the community and the advocacy for the school on behalf of the community," Runyeon said.
County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti said Gov. Martin O'Malley's office had called the Havre de Grace proposal "a model project" and assured Lisanti the state would fast-track the project.
"I am absolutely thrilled, but it is noteworthy that it is more than an approval, it is a change in the state policy," Lisanti said, citing a new policy approved at the committee's Feb. 20 meeting that allows state funding to go to smaller schools in designated growth areas.
"It is a mechanism for schools to build in already developed areas," she said.
"I am proud to be a leader in this issue and I am proud of everyone," Lisanti said about the recommendation approving Havre de Grace's school.
"I am not ready to open the champagne yet because we still have another hurdle to go," she added.
"I was actually ecstatic when I heard it," Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty said. "I am one of the happiest people around right now and I think all of our citizens should be."
Along with Havre de Grace Councilman David Glenn, Dougherty has been one of the city's top supporters of the school replacement.
Dougherty agreed O'Malley had been supportive of the project.
"The governor was very positive after the presentations [earlier in February] and said... this one fits the bill exactly," Dougherty said.
"It's great news," said Havre de Grace City Councilman David Glenn, who called state planning approval, "the icing on the cake."
Glenn praised the Havre de Grace community and especially HHS students for their efforts in moving the new high school project forward.
"When I was first elected [in May 2012], I attended my first county council meeting to support this project, Council President [Billy] Boniface told us this wasn't only anybody's radar," Glenn recalled. "I told him we were on the path forward and we had a great story to tell...that the students would tell it best...I'm happy for the kids."
Last fall, Harford school officials requested $14.2 million from the state for several projects, including Youth's Benefit, as well as authority to move ahead with planning for the Havre de Grace project.
The Interagency Committee also suggested approval of funding for heating and air conditioning projects at Fallston High School and at Darlington and Dublin elementary schools. The panel did not, however, approved requested planning authority for renovation of Joppatowne High School.
Harford schools superintendent Barbara Canavan said in a press release: "I am grateful to the IAC for recognizing that these projects are integral to advancing individual student achievement and the critical role our community plays in educating our children."