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Baltimore County school board seeks money to replace Towson, Dulaney high schools after removal from proposed capital plan

Members of the Baltimore County Board of Education railed against a proposed capital plan during a Tuesday night meeting, decrying school officials’ removal of projects to replace the aging and increasingly overcrowded Dulaney and Towson high schools.

But in a 7-2 split, with two abstaining, the board voted to add the two replacement projects back to the funding request.

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Replacing Dulaney and Towson have been in the school system’s construction plan for years, but some board members said that re-adding them to the fiscal 2022 funding request could knock other schools in need down the list.

The proposed capital budget presented Tuesday evening included a request for almost $63 million to build a replacement Lansdowne High; planning money for an addition to Dundalk High that would add up to 650 seats for additional students; and roof replacements at Randallstown and Parkville high schools.

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Planning money for an addition and renovation at Towson High that would create up to 600 seats for more students also was included before board members voted instead to include a replacement for Towson.

School board member Rod McMillion, who voted along with board member Moalie Jose against restoring the projects, said he was concerned that re-adding the projects would pit communities against each other by potentially taking money away from other proposed projects.

But Julie Henn, the board vice chair who represents Towson, said “we are not subtracting from this plan; we are adding to it.”

School board members were surprised in December when school officials released a capital improvement plan that did not include replacements for Towson and Dulaney high schools, as recommended by a third-party consultant in the new Multi-Year Improvement Plan for All Schools, or MYIPAS.

Although advocates have pushed for replacements for the two aging and crowded schools, CannonDesign, the firm that released the study in September, concluded instead that none of the county’s 24 high schools needed replacement and should instead undergo renovations and expansions that could cost up to $1.2 billion.

Towson representatives like Henn, Del. Cathi Forbes and Councilman David Marks opposed the recommendation to renovate Towson.

“Towson High is the oldest high school [in the county] with the least capital investment in the last 22 years — and it’s the most overcrowded” at nearly 130% capacity, Forbes said before the meeting.

By 2026, Towson High is expected to be over capacity by 480 students, said Pete Dixit, executive director of facilities management for the school system. A 2014 facilities assessment noted worn finishes and corrosion in the electrical system.

Dulaney High has experienced burst pipes, accessibility issues and a lack of air conditioning.

But Dundalk High is expected to have a deficit of 632 seats in the same time frame, Dixit said.

When board members voted to add back the projects, they also voted to prioritize a Towson High replacement above Dundalk High renovations.

Dixit said plans to replace Towson and Dulaney were removed from the capital project list based on the recommendations from CannonDesign, Dixit said. The firm’s recommendations urged officials to make $100 million in “critical” capacity additions at Dundalk, Loch Raven, Patapsco and Towson high schools.

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But Lisa Mack, a school board member who represents southwestern county schools, said she would not support “throwing good money after bad” to renovate Towson High.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. in late 2019 allotted $500,000 each in design money for new Towson and Dulaney school buildings.

A spokesman for Olszewski declined to comment on the schools’ capital plan before the Tuesday meeting.

The MYIPAS study, which cost the county $1.2 million to conduct, came two years after a capacity study by the Sage Policy Group recommended Towson High be replaced for an estimated $100 million.

Dixit said it was unclear how much funding would be available for the 51 capital projects, or how adding back the Towson and Dulaney projects would impact the others.

“It is the board’s responsibility to ask for what we know is going to provide the best benefit to our students,” said Kathleen Causey, who represents Dulaney.

“The Board of Education is asking the County Executive for what students need all across the county — compressive solutions to inadequate infrastructure and overcrowded schools,” wrote Yara Cheikh, PTSA president at Dulaney High, in an email after the vote.

“The days of building inadequate additions as stopgap measures are over,” she wrote. “We are moving forward.”

Board members will vote on the capital budget proposal at their Jan. 19 meeting before the request heads to the Baltimore County Council for final approval.

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