Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot on Thursday ratcheted up debate about school construction in southwest Baltimore County by saying the deteriorating Lansdowne High School will be replaced rather than remodeled.
"Lansdowne is going to get a new replacement school, I guarantee you that," Franchot said in a speech at the Arbutus Roundtable, a 25-year-old political discussion group.
As the standing-room crowd applauded, a smiling Franchot said: "I'm not supposed to say things like that. I'm supposed to say 'we'll wait and see.'"
Franchot's comments come as Baltimore County prepares its request for state help with a $50 million to $60 million Lansdowne renovation, to be completed in 2020, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said.
Franchot, whose role as Maryland's chief tax collector includes overseeing state funds for public school construction, also described poor conditions at Cockeysville's Dulaney High School, which he toured last month.
In comparison to Dulaney, "Lansdowne is worse," Franchot said. "How schools are allowed to get into that condition is beyond me."
After Franchot's speech, spokesman Alan Brody said that although the comptroller cannot fully guarantee that Lansdowne will get a new school, it will be one of his top priorities.
The Baltimore County spokeswoman repeated that a new school to serve the Arbutus and Lansdowne area is too costly at this time.
"Given current enrollment projections, there are at least three high schools that would have to be built prior to a new Lansdowne High School, meaning that state approval for a new Lansdowne High School would be at least a decade away and possibly more than that," Kobler said in an email.
The chief spokesman for county schools could not be reached Thursday.
In recent weeks, Franchot has criticized Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz about the deteriorating conditions of Lansdowne High School.
Parents at Lansdowne, a school of 1,338 students built in 1963, have long lobbied for a new school, saying renovations would not adequately solve problems with the building. A county facilities assessment graded the building at 1.74 out of 5, citing issues like structural settling, water damage and accessibility.
Kamenetz has maintained that building a new school for Lansdowne is unaffordable and instead proposed a renovation.
"Lansdowne and Dulaney, it's not a question of resources," Franchot said in Arbutus. He said Baltimore County is among the richest counties in a wealthy state. "It never was. It's a matter of spirit."
Last month, Kamenetz announced funding for two new schools in the central and northeast section of the county to alleviate overcrowding. The move angered parents at Lansdowne, which is slightly under capacity.
The county school board turned down a $30 million proposal to renovate Lansdowne High in March, in addition to a $40 million proposal to renovate Dulaney, because parents at both schools thought renovations would not go far enough and wanted full replacements.
Nick Stewart, a school board member who lives in Arbutus and represents Lansdowne, proposed in March that the board consider more funding and a broader scope for the Lansdowne renovation. A new renovation design is being drafted, school system spokeswoman Alyssa Alston said.
The comptroller sits with the governor and the treasurer on the Board of Public Works, which authorizes state funding for major projects and programs. Last year, Franchot partnered with Gov. Larry Hogan to withhold $10 million from Baltimore County until it presented a plan to installing central air conditioning in public schools in the district that lacked it.
After the county submitted a plan for air conditioning its schools within four years, the board restored its construction funding. Today, Lansdowne High School, which serves Arbutus, is one of 13 remaining schools without air conditioning.
Franchot suggested last week that at the next Board of Public Works meeting, on Oct. 18, he will question Baltimore County's interim superintendent Verletta White about the state of Lansdowne and Dulaney.
Clem Kaikis, who owns Paul's Restaurant, the site of the Thursday roundtable, as well as Salvatore "Manny" Anello, a leader of the club, both said the roundtable chose to honor Franchot because of his public stances on things like school facilities.
Kaikis said he works for the comptroller on constituent services.
Before receiving aa plaque from the Arbutus Roundtable, Franchot spoke about his priorities as comptroller, focusing on his efforts on beer legislation and tax fraud.
Franchot, who hours earlier announced he was running for a fourth term, talked about his "Reform On Tap" task force, a group of craft brewers and other stakeholders in the beer industry, assembled in April to address what he called "antiquated laws" that cover craft beer.
The comptroller's task force was born after state lawmakers struggled to make accommodations in the law to allow a Guinness to open a brewery in Relay, down the road from Arbutus. Last night he held a town hall in Silver Spring to discuss the craft brewery legislation.
Earlier this year, Diageo, the international liquor company that owns the Guinness brand, successfully persuaded lawmakers to allow Maryland production breweries to serve more beer in their in-house taprooms and sell some beer that's brewed off-site. Guinness plans to open its first Relay taproom this month.
Franchot also used his speech to present awards to two local figures: Carol Mox, president of the Halethorpe Community Association, and Otis Collins, president of the Wilkens Police and Community Relations Organization.