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Olszewski tours Lansdowne High to drum up support for state school construction funding bill

In Lansdowne High School, students enter cramped classrooms through too-narrow doorways. They drink bottled water because the taps run brown. They dodge supplies outside the library and cafeteria, stacked in the hallways because there is nowhere else to put them.

The cafeteria runs too cold — except when it is too hot. Floors crack as the building’s foundation settles. And with its five level changes in the hallways, according to Principal Ken Miller, students with disabilities cannot attend Lansdowne High at all.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said during a tour of Lansdowne High on Monday that the school needs a new building, and he called on state lawmakers to help pay for it by passing a school construction funding bill currently pending in the Senate.

“We’re here to tell a story,” Olszewski said. “The need is great, the county’s ready to do our part, we’re ready to put up our 50 percent, but we need the state to be a partner.”

On the tour, Miller showed Olszewski, who was accompanied by interim school superintendent Verletta White and a group of elected officials, problems the school faces. He said staff work hard to keep the focus on academics, despite “obstacles.”

“It is a challenge, but it’s just something that we have to deal with,” Miller said. “And obviously if we had a new facility it would alleviate those obstacles and make things a little easier. But we just keep focused on the goal, which is the academics and the success of our students.”

“We have amazing teachers and we have amazing students as well doing great things,” White said after the tour. “We’re going to continue to do those great things. But we need the time, the space, the place and a facility that’s conducive to learning in order to keep that momentum going.”

Lansdowne was in line for a renovation last year, but the school board rejected it, holding out in case there was a chance to build a new high school. With funding from the state, Olszewski said he wants to make that goal a reality.

“We’re trying to not just do any more band-aid repairs,” Olszewski said Monday. “We’re trying to do right by our kids and give them a new school.”

Olszewski is set to submit his first budget proposal to the County Council on April 15. He said Monday that what that budget has included for Lansdowne will depend on whether the legislature passes the bill; if it does, he said, “we’ll start planning and designing this year.”

If not, “we’ll have to take a good hard look at what we can afford,” Olszewski said.

“We’re here today to see [the facility conditions] again firsthand but also to call on our legislative leaders to finish the job,” Olszewski said.

The bill, called the Build to Learn Act, currently in the Maryland Senate after passing the House by a 133-3 vote, authorizes more than $2 billion in 30-year Maryland Stadium Authority bonds for school construction.

Asked about what the bill means for Dulaney High School, which also has severe facilities issues, Olszewski’s spokesman T.J. Smith said the legislation would not just help the county move forward on Lansdowne but would advance “a number of projects.”

With just one week before the end of this year’s legislative session, the bill is pending in the Senate. Olszewski urged lawmakers to advance it.

“Our kids deserve it,” Olszewski said. “They can’t wait another day.”

asolomon@baltsun.com

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