Harford school board approves spending $16.4 million for capital improvements

The Harford County Board of Education approved the Fiscal Year 2013 Capital Improvement Program at its Monday night meeting that calls for $16.4 million in spending, and also delays, at least for a year, construction projects at Homestead Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air, Youth's Benefit Elementary in Fallston and William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary in Abingdon.

The 2013 capital improvement budget was approved, with two amendments, for submission to the Harford County and state governments. Board member Alysson Krchnavy cast the only vote against it.

The first amendment to the budget, proposed by Nancy Reynolds, removed five line items from the priority list, including air conditioning installation in the Center for Educational Opportunity in Aberdeen and construction projects for the John Archer School, Homestead Wakefield, Youth's Benefit and William Paca/Old Post elementary schools until at least the completion of Harford County's Master Land Use Plan.

The John Archer School and Homestead Wakefield projects are connected because the school system plans to relocate the John Archer School, the county's school for special needs students, to Bel Air Middle School and needs to renovate Homestead Wakefield, located on the same campus, before doing so.

Youth's Benefit and William Paca/Old Post elementary schools were scheduled to be replaced by new schools.

The changes, which all of the board members approved, were made at the request of Harford County Executive David R. Craig.

Kim Spence, Harford County's Chief of Budget, Research and Management, said before the capital budget was introduced that Craig's suggested not prioritizing "major capital school projects" until the master plan is finished. The school board agreed, unanimously voting unanimously to hold the five items in "abeyance."

The second amendment to the capital budget reallocated funds requested for stadium improvement upgrades at C. Milton Wright High School, originally coming to $2.5 million for upgrades to the concession stand and track. Board members opted to change the line item to read stadium repairs instead as well as reduced the request to $25,000 to fix the track at C. Milton Wright High School and designated the remaining balance of the $2.5 million to the technology infrastructure portion of the budget.

The technology infrastructure line item, according to Joe Licata, Chief of Administration, has several components, including lab renovations and hard wire replacement.

Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent of business operations, said the $25,000 will also cover track improvements at Fallston High School.

Board members Krchnavy and James Thornton both voted against this amendment.

Throughout the presentation, Brown and Robert Tomback, superintendent of Harford County Public Schools, reiterated the amounts for each project could change based on what the county and the school system gets from the state. Although the school board approved the 2013 capital budget Monday evening, there would still be chances in the spring to make adjustments, if necessary.

Public Comment

Two community members spoke before the capital improvement program presentation Monday evening. Mark Chapman, whose daughter attends John Archer, urged board members to move forward with the project to relocate and update the school.

Chapman mentioned the narrow hallways, small medical assistance room and distance from the closest hospital among his many reasons the project should move forward, all while emotionally praising the school and staff. In a personal moment, Chapman said when his daughter first started at John Archer, doctors said she would not be able to walk, but now she can.

Beth Poggioli, vice president of the Youth's Benefit Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association, spoke next, referring to the need for a new building not only at Youth's Benefit, but also at William Paca/Old Post Road.

Poggioli acknowledged the lack of funding for the capital budget, but asked that the two schools be placed back on the priority list, with Youth's Benefit at its original designation of priority one, for new school construction.

Other Business

During the same presentation, board members also approved an application to the fiscal year 2012 Supplementary Funding Program, which will, if approved by the state, fund central cooling plant upgrades at Havre de Grace and Church Creek elementary schools.

From the revenue generated by the alcoholic beverages sales tax, according to Brown, the region is eligible for $1.2 million to split with Cecil County. After determining school population in each county, both parties agreed that Harford County's portion would be two-thirds, or $833,750.

With that in mind, the school system recommended the Havre de Grace and Church Creek projects based on the funding available and state criteria which, according to Licata, required "shovel ready" projects in particular areas or types of schools. Board members unanimously approved the application.

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