The impasse between Harford County Public Schools and the Town of Bel Air on final plans for the Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School has delayed its construction, school officials said Monday at a Harford Board of Education meeting.
“There’s exactly only one thing causing a delay to this project, and it is the connector road requirement by the planning commission for the Town of Bel Air,” Superintendent Sean Bulson said.
In April, the Town of Bel Air met with county school officials to discuss final plans for construction of a new school building on the current campus on South Main Street in Bel Air. At that time, the town made a requirement that a public connector road be built on the campus connecting East and West MacPhail roads.
In late April, the Board of Education 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.”
On July 28, the town held a public meeting with Bulson and school officials. Town Administrator Jesse Bane later told The Aegis that, contrary to what Bulson and other representatives of the school system have said, the town does not want the road to go through the middle of the school campus, which has three buildings on it.
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 to take down the existing Wakefield building and then, later, the Homestead building.
In Monday’s meeting, however, Bulson pushed back, saying the Bel Air town commissioners are the only ones who want a public road connector anywhere near the school campus.
“I feel they don’t have the authority to require this,” Bulson said. “Every time they send a new letter, they just change the words but the leave the spirit of requiring a connector road in.”
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Bel Air has said that the town would build the road but the school system may keep the property, Bulson said.
“We will continue to push to get the school built as quickly as possible,” Bulson said. “We are struggling with the politics here.”
The budget for fiscal 2024 will be adjusted because the new school now is not expected to be finished by its projected opening date of September 2024, said Chris Morton, schools supervisor of planning and construction.
Construction of the school was funded through the state’s Build To Learn Act with a cap of $36,168,000. Morton reported that statewide, on average, construction costs have risen 4 to 7 percent per square foot over the past year.
Morton said the project won’t be finished until the following year at least and the school system is taking into account inflation and rising construction costs.
The cost to extend the lease on the portable classrooms currently in use at the school will be $1 million a year, another hit to the budget, Morton said. This means the longer the school system waits to build, this and future projects will become more expensive, he said. The school system can only build one school at a time, said Joyce Herold, member of the Board of Education.