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Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., left, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Baltimore County Council Tom Quirk join a tour of Lansdowne High School on Dec. 2, discussing its ongoing infrastructure issues and plans for replacement.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., left, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Baltimore County Council Tom Quirk join a tour of Lansdowne High School on Dec. 2, discussing its ongoing infrastructure issues and plans for replacement. (Taylor DeVille / Baltimore Sun)

Not much has changed structurally at Lansdowne High School since Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones was a student there from 1969 to 1972, the Baltimore County Democrat said during a tour of the aging facility the morning of Dec. 2.

Signs posted near water fountains indicate they can’t be used for drinking. The ground in a school courtyard has folded into a sinkhole. Walls in some hallways bowing and floors are cracking. In one area, damaged pipes leak into the ceiling. Changes in floor level make the 56-year-old school inaccessible for students who use wheelchairs.

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Jones joined local lawmakers and school officials on the first tour of her former high school since assuming her role as speaker in May. The walk-through came almost a month after Maryland’s Democratic leaders announced plans to propose $2.2 billion more for renovating and building state schools through Maryland Stadium Authority bonds over the next decade, dubbed the “Built To Learn Act.”

“To me, Lansdowne is No. 1” among schools in the state eligible for that money, Jones said.

Jones said in July that committing state funds to carry out Kirwan Commission recommendations and school construction were her top legislative priorities moving into the 2020 General Assembly session.

A bill seeking to achieve the same goal passed in the House during the 2019 session by a 133-3 vote, but faltered in a Senate committee, delaying county plans to rebuild Dulaney, Lansdowne and Towson high schools. All three schools face infrastructure and overcrowding issues, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewki Jr. said Dec. 2.

Next year, “I can guarantee you this bill will be passed,” Jones said.

Olszewki’s office already took steps to ensure replacements for the county schools “in the greatest need” will be prioritized for state funding if the bill passes next year, Jones said after the tour.

Baltimore County is using $15 million in its fiscal 2020 budget to design a new building for nearly 1,300 Lansdowne High students. The Baltimore County school board is enabled by nearly $200 million “pre-funded” construction dollars in the county’s capital budget, allowing the board to start the contracting process for the school’s construction “as soon as we know the legislation is coming,” Olszewksi said in an interview.

With an estimated $100 million price tag each to replace Dulaney, Lansdowne and Towson, the new buildings are contingent on state funding, Olszewksi said. In September, the county executive’s office announced design funding for Dulaney and Towson high schools also would be available in the county’s 2020 budget.

Fixing the southwestern county school has been an issue for the last five years, Lansdowne High principal Ken Miller said after the tour. Still, with the continued attention of local and state leaders, Miller said he’s optimistic about the likelihood of getting the construction dollars.

The county committed the design funding last year after Baltimore County school board members opted in 2018 to re-designate $60 million previously earmarked for renovations to the school.

Moving forward on planning the new school is “a leap of faith … knowing that we had such strong leadership in the legislature that is stepping up,” Olszewksi said after the tour.

Olszewksi said the Democratic legislature’s commitment to funding school improvements in the 2020 session is evident in the bills’ designations as House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1.

If the bills fail to pass, the schools could be waiting three or more years for replacement, county spokesman Sean Naron said.

Going into 2020, Olszewksi said Jones’ leadership “is so critical and will equip us to not only move forward to finishing the planning and design but actually start the construction on a more timely basis.” With state support, he said, construction could begin “within a couple of years.”

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The school presents “great needs that need to be addressed,” Jones said. “We can’t wait.”

Olszewki’s office last month issued a request for proposals to develop a 10-year school construction plan to identify and prioritize school improvements for county schools, expected to see 1,700 more students than the school system can support over the next decade.

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