The Harford County Board of Education approved the Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School replacement project during its meeting Monday night after several months of conflict with the Town of Bel Air over a connector road that would have run through the school’s campus.
The school system has received initial permits necessary to begin construction to replace the three-building school, which is over capacity, and expects future permits to be forthcoming based upon a legal agreement with Bel Air, according to Jillian Lader, Harford County Public Schools’ manager of communications.
The school system and town are still at odds over the road, and the case is likely to be decided in Circuit Court.
“The permits for the school construction are in various stages of finality,” Bel Air Town Administrator Edward Hopkins said Tuesday. “However, the matter is still being litigated in the courts and pending a decision on how the courts will rule regarding the Town’s Comprehensive Plan.”
In April 2022, the Town of Bel Air met with county school officials to discuss the final plans for construction of the new school building on the current campus on South Main Street in Bel Air. The town made a requirement that a public connector road be built on the campus, connecting East and West MacPhail roads.
Later in the month, the Board of Education voted against the requirement. In July, the board said it objected to the proposed connector road because it would divide the campus and divert public traffic through the school site.
Former Bel Air Town Administrator Jesse Bane later told The Aegis that the town did not want the road to go through the middle of the school campus. The town said the 2022 Comprehensive Plan required the road.
The Planning Commission of Bel Air reconsidered the Homestead-Wakefield preliminary site plan, issuing a conditional approval that still required a public connector road through the South Main Street campus.
In a letter, the commission informed Harford County’s Board of Education that the conditional approval required the school board to agree to set aside school property for a road, and that the building permit and other permits were contingent upon the school board agreeing to the terms in the Planning Commission’s letter within 60 days.
The school board overruled the conditional approval at its Sept. 19 meeting, clarifying that the entire Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School property is for educational purposes. The board has the power to overrule the decision through Section 3-205(c)(3) of the Maryland Annotated Code’s land-use article that allows for the body having jurisdiction over financing of the public building to overrule the Planning Commission’s decision by a two-thirds vote.
The town did not accept the overrule and the board filed an appeal in county Circuit Court to reference the new decision and the new overrule in Sept. 2022.
“Thus far, we have been unable to reach an agreement with the Town” about the road, Lader said. “Absent an agreement, the matter will be decided by the court.”
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Hopkins said the court has not set a date for the continuing litigation.
The Harford County Board of Education unanimously approved the funding for the project and construction contracts.
Funds provided by the county and state in the amount of $98.5 million is phased over four fiscal years beginning with fiscal 2022. As part of this project, construction management services are required to administer and manage the multiple prime construction packages.
Thirty-nine contractors submitted bids for the nine bid packages and 19 alternate bids.
The bids cost $59.4 million including $57.7 million for the base bids and $1.6 million for the 19 alternate bids.
“With the delays that have occurred due to conversations around the connector road, we do not anticipate the building will be ready to open in the fall of 2024,” Lader said. “Barring any additional delays, we are planning on a fall 2025 opening.”