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Harford public buildings repair, maintenance costs could be $576 million in decade, study warns

The 50-year-old building that serves as headquarters of the Harford County Sheriff's Office is in need of renovation or replacement, according to a comprehensives report on county facilities.
The 50-year-old building that serves as headquarters of the Harford County Sheriff's Office is in need of renovation or replacement, according to a comprehensives report on county facilities. (AEGIS FILE PHOTO / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Buildings owned by Harford County government could require more than $576 million worth of maintenance, repair and renovation work or replacement in 10 years, if the county doesn't begin addressing some of those needs immediately.

That is one of the conclusions of an extensive facilities master plan presented to county officials this week. The report was prepared Jacobs Engineering Inc. in association with DeJong Richter and Grimm+Parker Architects.

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The plan is the result of a detailed review of county-owned and county-operated facilities commissioned by former county executive David Craig's administration and endorsed by the last county council.

In 2013, the county agreed to spend about $1.9 million to study 184 public buildings, including government-owned office buildings, schools, libraries, the community college, community centers, utilities and police and public safety facilities.

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Besides categorizing the buildings based on urgency of need, the Jacobs plan concluded that failing to address repair and renovation needs now will cost the county as much as $336.3 million by 2018 and $576.2 million by 2023, according to the presentation made to the County Council Tuesday night.

By comparison, the county's operating budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year is $627.5 million.

"There is a cost for doing nothing," Mark Pleskow, a principal at Jacobs, said Tuesday, explaining his firm tried to provide an "apolitical framework" for prioritizing the county's scarce resources.

The study listed sites such as the circuit courthouse and Sheriff's Office headquarters, both in Bel Air, the Center for Educational Opportunity in Aberdeen and numerous elementary schools as requiring the most immediate attention.

An earlier study done by Craig's administration had recommended replacing the 50-year-old sheriff's headquarters, while the county already has plans to spend more than $5 million to replace the courthouse's heating and air conditioning system and do other renovations.

Havre de Grace Middle and High schools, replacement of which was pushed for by Craig but has been postponed at least a year by new Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, did not crack the top 18 of highest-priority projects.

Those two schools are in the next highest priority group, however, Jacobs representatives said.

Councilman Jim McMahan questioned several of Pleskow's assertions and assumptions, such as that downtown Bel Air shows a "low use of land" through its many parking lots and that the county has an "aging portfolio" because buildings have a life cycle of 40 to 50 years.

"Certainly anyone that has lived in Harford County for a while has seen that that is the truth," McMahan said about the longevity of the buildings. "But I can never understand for the life of me why the kids in the U.K. go to a school that is 235 years old or better, and we cannot build a building that can last 50 years. What are we doing wrong?"

McMahan also wondered why parking lots are considered a low use of land by the report's authors.

"When an 80-year-old lady is looking for a place to pay her taxes, she is not really interested in low use of land. It's pretty important for her at that point," McMahan said about the need for parking.

Pleskow agreed, explaining the idea is to increase density and perhaps redistribute the arrangement of parking space.

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"It's not just pure revenue generation, it's to get more benefit out of the land," Pleskow said.

Councilman Pat Vincenti said the council "unfortunately" only received the report that afternoon and needed more time to review it.

After the meeting, Council President Dick Slutzky said the Jacobs representatives would be taking their presentation to the Board of Education and the council will thoroughly review the lengthy report.

"I think it's going to be useful. The concept was a good one and we hope that everybody takes it in the right spirit," Slutzky said, adding there was "a lot to digest."

"From the beginning, I thought this was a plan and that the final decisions would rest with the authorities that had picked the facilities," he said.

Glassman, who took office Dec. 1, issued a statement about the plan Wednesday morning.

"I welcome this comprehensive, independent analysis of the state of our county facilities," he said. "Although this report was commissioned during the prior administration, it was initiated to improve decision-making in the future. Both the analysis and related recommendations will help my administration use taxpayer dollars wisely as we prioritize projects and implement cost savings in next year's budget and beyond."

The lengthy report is posted on the county's website, http://www.harfordcountymd.gov/Interests/Index.cfm?ID=12.

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