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Harford school board approves $41.4 million request for capital projects, including special education facilities

Harford County Public Schools’ leaders are seeking $41.4 million from the county government to fund multiple capital projects listed in the school system fiscal 2021 budget.

The Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of the funding request during its meeting Monday evening. The request, which will be forwarded to County Executive Barry Glassman, will cover only projects that qualify for local funding.

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There are multiple projects listed, including HVAC system repairs and upgrades, technology upgrades, renovations to swimming pools and other athletic facilities, emergency communications equipment, stormwater management projects, as well as the “number-one priority” — improvements for special education facilities, according to Missy Valentino, facilities planner for planning and construction.

The special education improvements include creating classroom spaces at Forest Lakes Elementary School in Forest Hill and at Fallston Middle School for STRIVE programs that serve students with autism, as well as an elementary classroom support program at Jarrettsville Elementary School and an Early Learners/Early Intervention program at Youth’s Benefit Elementary School in Fallston, Valentino said.

The current projected cost of those improvements, $1.13 million, has been revised with a $58,000 decrease from the previous estimate, $1.18 million, “now that we’ve been able to determine those locations” for the classrooms, Valentino said. The cost estimate includes funding to purchase buses.

Board member Tamera Rush asked why the four schools listed had been selected for special education facilities.

Enrollment in Harford County Public Schools grew by more than 600 students this year, and school officials have said previously that more students need special education services. Valentino said the schools in Forest Hill, Fallston and Jarrettsville are in centrally located parts of the county, which officials look for when developing regional special education facilities.

The capacity of each school must be considered, too, because “when we go in and modify these spaces, we do decrease the capacity of the building,” Valentino said. She noted a general Harford classroom has capacity for 23 students, but special education classrooms are limited to 10 students in accordance with state standards. Special education programs also require additional space in the school for support services, according to Valentino.

Facilities and operations officials coordinate with their counterparts in special education and other HCPS departments to determine potential growth in special education needs, according to Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations.

“The schools that you see here are schools that are needed to address the additional students that our special ed department believes will be in the system and will require those services,” Brown told board members.

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State capital request

The board approved a prior request for $30.7 million worth of capital projects, funded by the state and local governments, in the fall. HCPS is seeking $16.7 million from the county and $13.9 million from the state for those projects, which include the limited renovation of Joppatowne High School and replacing the roofs at Bel Air Middle School and Hickory Elementary School.

The first request has been sent to the state, and Harford school representatives attended a hearing hosted by the state’s Interagency Commission on School Construction, Brown told the school board Monday.

“We have received preliminary numbers projecting proposed funding,” Valentino added.

State officials recommend fully funding the amount requested for the first year for the Joppatowne High limited renovation, $8.07 million.

Valentino noted the the overall budget for that project has increased because of “market conditions,” although the scope of it has not changed. The total budget is expected to increase by $4.9 million, from $39.5 million to $44.5 million, according to the presentation Monday. That increase is expected to have an impact on the fiscal 2022 capital budget, Valentino said.

The state also recommends fully funding the second year of the Hickory Elementary roof replacement — $1.5 million — and granting partial funding for the Bel Air Middle roof replacement "with the intent of us coming back for the second half of that funding next year,” Valentino said.

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Harford school officials are seeking $4.2 million for the Bel Air Middle project, but the state recommends providing $2.02 million next year.

Those requests cover the state’s share of the costs of the three projects; HCPS is requesting from the county government $12.9 million for Joppatowne, $3.1 million for Bel Air Middle and $633,000 for Hickory.

The total proposed capital improvement program budget for HCPS, including the state/local request and the local-only request, is $72.2 million. Officials are still working with the state as leaders in Annapolis work out their final allocations of capital funding, and they will return to the Harford school board with updated figures as the Harford County and state budgets are finalized, Brown said.

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