The Aegis
Harford County

Harford's Craig leaving gift to hometown that won't soon be forgotten [Commentary]

When David Craig leaves office later this year, after serving longer than anyone else as Harford County executive, most people presume his political career will pretty much come to close.

After being rejected by the voters of his own party in his recent bid for governor, there may not be another act in politics for Craig, who has served in one elected office or another for all but something like 30 months of the past 38 years.


Some people have suggested, with apparent seriousness, that Craig soon will be free to go back to Havre de Grace and run for mayor, a job he has already held twice. The next election for that office comes up in May, and undoubtedly the incumbent, Wayne Dougherty, is wondering about the possibility of such a challenge. In politics, stranger things have happened.

Regardless what Craig does or doesn't do from a political standpoint, he will be leaving his hometown a parting gift that won't soon be forgotten: A new middle and high school complex that he, and he alone, is responsible for conceiving and pushing along.


While the necessity for this project and the priority it has been given could be debated every which way, the new school is to the point where design work is well underway and construction is slated to begin next summer. Craig is the man who made it happen.

When it comes to building something like an $86 million public building, nothing is a sure thing until the bulldozers start clearing the site and steel goes up, so presumably something could come up in the next 12 months to stall or even kill the project.

One thing I can predict with some certainty is that Craig's likely successor as county executive, Barry Glassman, won't be the one to put the brakes on the project, even though he doesn't want his administration to be in hock for 50 some odd millions of dollars that will be the county's share. That ship has already sailed, thanks to Craig standing his ground when Glassman's proxies on the county council and school board tried to derail the HHS project in the early stages.

At this point, Glassman would be well advised to show his pride as a loyal HHS graduate, smile for the camera at the groundbreaking next summer and maybe try to grab a piece of the credit when they hold the dedication for the new school in the fall of 2018 - when presumably he'll be running for a second term as county executive.

Forgetting the cost and assuming that the project is justified from a need standpoint - and there are persuasive arguments it is, everyone in Havre de Grace should thank Craig.

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Their community will be getting a modern school for kids in grades six through 12 many, many years ahead of when anyone would have reasonably expected to have one, if at all. More importantly, this investment ought to put to rest once and for all any notion that the two Havre de Grace secondary schools, by far the county's smallest in enrollment, are prime candidates for extinction if countywide school consolidation were ever seriously considered.

With the new high school planned to have a magnet program in computer science, the potential draw from around the county could be an added economic boost for the city. A word of caution: The educational specifications for the new school call for an initial enrollment of 150 in the magnet program, though the specs have a provision for the school itself to be expanded from 1,300 students at the start to up to 1,600 in the future. They might want to rethink the sizing of the magnet facilities, because 150 in that field seems too low. (Please note, the deadline for this column fell a few hours before the school board was to review and vote on the specifications Monday.)

The school also seems to have too little space dedicated to what is called "foundations of technology" or "technology education," probably better known in my day as "industrial arts" or just plain "shop." Basically, the plan calls for two wood shops - one for middle school and one for high school - with graphic design training to occur as part of the arts programs.


I'm OK with the latter, as nobody draws construction docs any more with a T-square, triangles and French curves, but wouldn't it make sense to have one large construction shop for all grades where they could also get some basic training in metalworking and automotive? If schools are going to teach kids how to cook and care for children, which they most certainly should, they ought to provide the opportunity to learn about the basic principles of welding and how an automobile runs. Both are skills high in demand and should be well into the future.

Perhaps, another tack would be to consider tailoring a portion of this new school to some hands-on training in these and other skills that are in great demand. Perhaps the new HHS should be an annex for Harford Tech, which might address the perceived need for a second technical high school in Harford. Here's an opportunity to address that need in a community which has a thriving industrial base and a hospital.

One other thing I found interesting about the so-called edspecs for the new school is about the same amount of space, almost 9,000 square feet, is dedicated to music education as to the library/media center. As also noted in this report, however, at 37 percent, Havre de Grace High School has the highest participation in music programs of any school in Harford, enough to support three bands, a jazz ensemble, four choruses and an orchestra.

All-in-all, the plan for the new school looks like a winner for the Havre de Grace community and an immense achievement by the man who made it possible.