Harford County Public Schools are looking for a consultant to help them rebalance school enrollment, evaluating whether districts need to be redrawn in the most crowded areas of the county and examine the school system’s planned capital improvements.
According to a request for qualification, the school system is searching for a consultant that could study and recommend a course of action to balance enrollment over the whole school system, which has seen growth after years of flat enrollment. It will also evaluate the proposed replacement and renovation of Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School and other capital projects.
Cornell Brown, the assistant superintendent of operations for HCPS, said the request for qualifications — a document that, effectively, winnows down the pool of applicants for the project — was issued in April. Candidate firms are being interviewed now, Brown said, and he hopes to have a recommended firm for the school board to approve in September.
Brown said the school system hopes to implement the recommendations for the 2022-23 school year. The boundaries would not change mid-school year, Brown clarified.
School districts have a direct effect on residential development. Per the county code, if a school is projected to exceed 110% capacity in three years, or is currently over the threshold, preliminary site plans for multi-family residential developments and projects plans exceeding five lots in its district cannot be approved. Those with the proper permits who were approved before the schools went over the limit can still build, but no new development can be approved.
Currently, five elementary schools are in that situation: Emmorton, Red Pump, Bel Air, Homestead-Wakefield and Havre de Grace, county spokesperson Cindy Mumby said. The only middle school over capacity is Bel Air Middle School.
In addition to recommending changes to the school districts, the chosen consultant will be tasked with evaluating the school system’s capital priorities, according to the document.
Of the three major capital projects planned over the next few years, Homestead-Wakefield tops the list. In 2009, the school system commissioned a study to renovate and construct an addition to the building ”to accommodate the entire student population in one facility,” the document states. “However, due to fiscal constraints the project was deferred; the State planning approval for the project was rescinded April 2016,” the document states.
“Additionally, the existing buildings have many systemic needs and do not meet the current HCPS educational design standards for elementary schools.”
Along with Homestead-Wakefield, the John Archer School and William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School were identified as “having the greatest facility needs within the county,” the document states.
Homestead Wakefield is at 112% capacity, according to the document, and shares a campus with Bel Air Middle and High schools. Growth has mostly affected Bel Air of all the county’s localities, Brown said, but the school board has also seen the effect of residential growth at Havre de Grace Elementary.
Brown said the school board opted to hire a consultant to ensure the process was transparent and thorough. Because of the scope of the task at hand, he said, the school system did not have the technology or personnel to conduct the study and associated public meetings itself.
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“With the scope and scale of this initiative, impact to the various educational programs ... it would be best for us to tap a consultant to come on board so we can have an external third party,” Brown said. “It gets a little bit complicated and time consuming to evaluate this information, and we just do not have the internal capacity.”