School board tables decision on air conditioning for Youth's Benefit

The Harford County Board of Education voted to postpone a decision on putting air conditioning in one of the county's oldest schools, Youth's Benefit Elementary.

The decision at Monday night's school board meeting came after Youth's Benefit PTA President Laura Runyeon asked the board that any money set aside for air-conditioning instead go toward re-building the school.

She likened the project to "a Band-Aid on a building that's hemorrhaging."

"There are a number of projects we know need to be addressed," Runyeon said, referring to what Superintendent Robert Tomback told the Harford County Council during a public hearing last week.

She again asked the board to spend money "addressing the real deficiencies in our school," rather than put in air conditioning.

The board listened.

When it came time to approve the night's consent agenda, which included a contract for the installation of air conditioning at Youth's Benefit, board member James Thornton made a motion to delay the decision until a later date.

Fellow board member Bob Frisch had concerns, however, as to the possible impact of postponing the contract approval could have on the school.

In light of what Runyeon said during the meeting, "it would be less than prudent to move forward" with the project, Thornton said.

Frisch's reservations were if postponing the decision would essentially kill it, or just prevent the project from happening this year.

He stressed that Harford County Executive David Craig's proposed fiscal year 2013 budget, which includes capital project money for renovating the county's aging schools, has not been approved yet and is simply a proposal at this point.

"Think about the adjustments that would have to be made," Frisch said, if the contract is not approved. One of those adjustments, he continued, included re-engineering.

Frisch added that he didn't believe the county council was interested in forward funding school projects.

As a teacher, Frisch also said he could "vouch on the negative impact on student learning" in a non air-conditioned school.

He pointed out that the best case scenario has a new Youth's Benefit being built in four years and, he added, the students would have to go without air conditioning for those four years.

Board member Nancy Reynolds asked Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent of operations, what the last possible date is for signing off on the project.

Brown said the issue of notice to proceed needed to be complete this week and the contractor is waiting for the go-ahead before ordering the equipment necessary for the project.

"We will lose the window of opportunity to receive equipment," Brown said, if a decision isn't made this week.

Board member Cassandra Beverley said with possible funds available to build a new Youth's Benefit, it may be unwise to spend the money set aside for air-conditioning in a school that may be torn down in a few years.

She added that the school's own PTA requested that the school board not spend money on the project and put it toward a new school.

Board member Joseph Hau asked Brown if the school system could salvage the air-conditioning system for use in a new building, if one is put in now.

Brown said that wouldn't be possible.

After more discussion, the school board approved delaying the decision, with Frisch and Board of Education Vice President Rick Grambo the only members voting to not postpone the decision.

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