Fix them now

Building maintenance has long been a weakness of Harford County Public Schools. Certainly, school buildings are used hard and can't be expected to last forever. Then again, most school buildings are constructed rather solidly using the best techniques of the day. Even when the old Bel Air High School building was demolished a few years back, it wasn't falling apart and, with enough work, probably could have been kept serviceable for another half century.

This isn't to say old school buildings should never be torn down and replaced. To the contrary, the new Bel Air High building compared to what it replaced is a wonder of modern educational technology, even as the old school building was still serviceable.

But that doesn't mean maintenance issues should be given the rudimentary attention they generally receive at the leadership levels in Harford County Public Schools. A case in point is the recent presentation by the leadership of the Harford County Education Association, which revealed in some detail problems with mold and rust in William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School in Abingdon.

Similarly, problems with mold and other cleanliness and maintenance were pointed out by parents from the Prospect Mill and Youth's Benefit elementary schools communities.

The presentations amounted to pleas for increases in funding for the purpose of replacing the existing buildings, which are among the county's older schools and are probably in line for replacement in the next few years no matter how you look at it.

Unfortunately, the plea for new buildings to replace those that are aging has generally overwhelmed any call for improved building maintenance. No doubt when William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School opened, it was a shining model of an educational facility and it has taken years of neglect for it to devolve into something of a poster case for increased school maintenance funding.

Mold and rust, however, are hardly insurmountable. Sure, they can be expensive to deal with as their collective root cause is probably some sort of drainage or ventilation problem, but that cost pales compared to the cost of school replacement.

Ideally, an old school would be kept in the best shape possible so as to best serve the first and last students to learn in the building. When a building meets the end of its useful life, it makes sense to replace it, even if it is in relatively good shape considering its age. Therein lies a possible reason why school maintenance is given a low priority. An old school in relatively good repair doesn't scream for replacement the way an old school with mold and rust does. A little neglect goes a long way in fomenting public outrage about the condition of an educational facility. And a little public outrage goes a long way in shaking loose school construction money.

It may well be that William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary, Youth's Benefit Elementary and Prospect Mill Elementary are all in need of replacement, but there's no excuse for students and teachers to have to endure mold and other problems caused by a lack of decent maintenance. These issues should be fixed immediately, regardless of how long the school buildings are to remain in use.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad