Advertisement
The Aegis
Harford County

Harford County Public Schools, Town of Bel Air still must decide where connector road near Homestead Wakefield Elementary School will go

The Town of Bel Air Planning Commission held a public meeting Thursday with Harford County Public Schools to address the status of construction of Homestead Wakefield Elementary School.

At issue is a proposed public connector road between East and West MacPhail roads that the commission said must pass through the school campus. On April 7, it made the road through the property a requirement for the construction of the school. Later that month, the school board voted against the requirement, reiterating in a statement July 21 that “the proposed connector road would divide the campus and divert public traffic through the school site.”

Advertisement

According to town administrator Jesse Bane, last week’s public meeting gave the school board another opportunity to express its needs and plans for construction, and for town staff and the public to comment on the proposed plans.

Advertisement

Bane, however, said the road does not have to go directly next to the school.

“There’s over 30 acres of ground there where that road can go through, and it does not have to be next to the school,” Bane said. “It’s up to the school to tell us where they would like it to go.”

Bane also said the Town of Bel Air is not the reason for the delay in construction. He said the school system has yet to make an application for a necessary demolition permit.

Schools Communications Manager Jillian Lader, however, put the focus on the standoff over the connector road.

“Construction plans for Homestead Wakefield Elementary School have been stymied as the Town of Bel Air has noted they will approve construction permits and more, but they will not grant site plan approvals or occupancy of the building at the conclusion of construction unless a public connector road is built through the campus,” Lader said in a statement Monday.

Advertisement

The public connector road has been in the town’s comprehensive plan for over 50 years, but “it was never protested by Harford County Public Schools until they wanted to construct this particular school,” according to Bane.

“While the planning commission agreed to delay a vote on the matter considering the community’s response,” Lader wrote, “it requested the school board find a new location on the site to build a public connector road.”

Both sides have stated safety as a concern. Bane, speaking on behalf of the Planning Commission, said the connector road is necessary to provide better access to the campus for essential services, especially in an emergency.

“The existing entrance to [Homestead Wakefield Elementary School] from South Main Street is poor at best and does not provide for adequate access to the campus,” he said. “After the events at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the town is most concerned about emergencies and how the project can improve access for first responders and provide a more direct connection to the hospital.”

School officials are also concerned about the traffic from the new road.

“Students and staff walk through the school campus and use the property for various educational purposes,” said Lader. “If a road were to be built on the school property, it poses clear safety concerns for students and staff.”

Advertisement

In May, the Harford Board of Education filed an appeal of the Bel Air Planning Commission’s decision in Harford County Circuit Court. On June 30, Judge Paul Ishak denied the school board’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, Bane said.

In June, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, who approved the first year of construction funding for the new Homestead Wakefield building in the fiscal 2023 budget, sent a letter to the Bel Air town commissioners, urging them to allow construction of the new Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School to move forward.

The Morning Sun

The Morning Sun

Daily

Get your morning news in your e-mail inbox. Get all the top news and sports from the baltimoresun.com.

“While it [the town’s recommendation] suggests that a road could run around the school facility, construction of such a road would require a very large amount of the Board of Education’s property,” Glassman said. “It would also raise safety concerns and fail to provide an efficient route through campus.”

Glassman, the Republican Party candidate for the state comptroller job, expressed concern that the delay in making a decision on the connector road will cause additional construction delays that would cost both the families served by the school and taxpayers.

“The educational needs of our students and families, as indicated by the plan approved by the Board of Education and Maryland state authorities, outweigh the convenience of a public road,” Glassman said. “I urge you to allow this project to move forward. The students, parents and staff of [Homestead Wakefield Elementary School] have waited long enough.”

Advertisement

The new Homestead Wakefield Elementary School is scheduled to open in fall 2024.

“As [Harford County Public Schools] continues to advocate for the safety and educational space of the children who attend Homestead Wakefield Elementary, as well as those at Bel Air Middle and High, we are eager to reach a solution,” Lader said. “The project has already been delayed a year; our students and families should not have to wait any longer to see their new school.”

The Planning Commission has asked Harford County Public Schools to come up with a proposal of wehre the public connector road will be built on the campus.


Advertisement