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New roofs at Hickory Elementary, Bel Air Middle top Harford schools’ FY2021 capital project priorities

New roofs at Hickory Elementary, Bel Air Middle top Harford schools’ FY2021 capital project priorities
The school system’s capital project priorities for the next fiscal year are new roofs for Hickory Elementary, pictured, and Bel Air Middle and the limited renovation of Joppatowne High School. (Erika Butler/Erika Butler / The Aegis)

The school system’s capital project priorities for the next fiscal year, which doesn’t begin until July 2020, are new roofs for Hickory Elementary and Bel Air Middle and the limited renovation of Joppatowne High School.

While funding is still a year away, Harford County Public Schools officials are working on the FY2021 Capital Improvement Program, a process that continues throughout the year, Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations, told members of the Harford County Board of Education at their meeting July 15.

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“It’s a very fluid process, it’s a very long process,” Brown said. “The funding is available in July, then we start all over again and we’re back in front of you again. It’s like Groundhog Day, it never stops.”

The Capital Improvement Plan presented to the board last week totals $71.4 million — about $13.9 million in state funding and about $57.5 million in local funding.

For this budget year, July 1 to June 30, the school system received nearly $13 million from the state and $27.7 million from the county, Morton said.

Preparing the budget

While the board is considering a capital project budget, the members need to keep in mind that every project in the capital budget has ramifications to the operating budget, Brown said.

“The bricks and the sticks” of building a new school are in the capital budget, he said, but the staffing, maintenance, materials and supplies are within the operating budget.

“For every new school facility, there are operating costs associated with it,” Brown told the board, which includes seven new elected members and a new student representative.

Funding for capital projects comes from the state and the local governments, Missy Valentino, a facility planner for the school system.

The state funds major renovation projects and school replacements, typically with local matches, she said.

Among the considerations for funding are the age of the building — a minimum 16 years old — a $200,000 minimum request from the state, enrollment and capacity of the building and how much the county is funding.

Some projects, such as repairs, technology, academic needs and life and safety needs, are funded only by the county government, which has committed to funding one major project at a time.

This year that project is completion of the new Havre de Grace Middle/High School and next year is the Joppatowne High School limited renovation, Valentino said.

Among the considerations in developing the CIP are students, the board’s goals, compliance regulations, enrollment trends and funding sources, Valentino said.

“Once the needs are identified, they are prioritized,” she said and a score is calculated for each need based on the level of need — if it’s current critical, potential critical, a necessary item or recommended item, she said.

Projects are grouped by level of need, which brings the critical needs to the top, she said.

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Those needs in the next fiscal year are the two roof projects and Joppatowne High.

The estimated construction costs for the renovation of Joppatowne High is about $29 million and a contract for nearly $2 million with Banta Campbell Architects Inc. for architectural and engineering services for the project was approved by the board last month.

School buildings

The school system has 54 schools and 175 buildings totaling nearly 6 million square feet over 1,891 acres, Chris Morton, supervisor of planning and construction, told the board. Those schools have 2,294 classrooms with 37,800 students, more than 6,500 students below the state-rated capacity of 44,337.

According to a 2014 countywide study of all Harford County government facilities, the school system comprised 74 percent of the total assets, Morton said. The county had about 8.4 million square feet of space, including libraries, the sheriff’s office, public works, and the school system was nearly 6 million of that, he said.

It’s bigger than Towson University’s main campus, which is 55 buildings and 5.6 million square feet, he said, to put it into perspective.

“We’re like a mid-size community college,” Morton said.

When the study was done, the average age of the system’s buildings was 38 years old; it’s since risen to 44.

Among the most critical needs are new roofs for many of the 54 schools.

With an average life of 25 to 40 years, to keep pace with replacement would mean the school system would have to replace 1.6 roofs a year.

“It’s not like you can get it all done, but that’s the pace it has to happen,” Morton said.

The two roofing projects are priorities on this year’s CIP list, which will be funded locally and by the state.

The cost for such projects is significantly higher this year because of the record 72 inches of rain last year.

“Any roof, not just in the school system, with an issue showed its problems with all the rain last year,” Morton said. “There are more roofing projects and fewer roofing contractors.”

The cost for roof work has increase from $24 to $25 a square foot to $40 to $42 a square foot, he said.

The Hickory Elementary project is budgeted at $2.2 million and the Bel Air Middle project at $7.5 million, Morton said.

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