Harford County Executive Barry Glassman wore his maroon letterman's jacket Thursday, a proud graduate of Havre de Grace High School, as he joined other county, school and community members to break ground on a new $80 million combined high and middle school building off of Lewis Lane.
"The great equalizer in America is education. No matter where you are, it can lift you up and lift our young people into prosperity in the future," Glassman said. "It has taken a lot of hard work to get us where we're financially solvent and ready to move forward."
It took six years of lobbying, planning, going back to the drawing board to get to Thursday's groundbreaking on the 250,111-square-foot building that is projected to open for the 2020 school year.
The county has begun selling bonds to finance its share of the project and major construction contracts were approved by the school system earlier this year. Site preparation began in March, including construction of sediment and erosion control structures and excavation for the building's foundation.
What is a landscape of dirt, Havre de Grace Mayor William T. Martin said, will soon become "sacred Havre de Grace dirt," and on it will be built a place where sixth-graders will get off the bus fearful of going to a "big boy school," where eighth-graders will learn U.S. history and ninth-graders will learn algebraic equations, where cheerleaders will learn new moves and kids in the hallways will talk about a touchdown they saw at last Friday night's football game.
"Relationships and bonds with their peers and, hopefully, their teachers will be formed that will hopefully last for a lifetime, all taking place right behind me," Martin said. "This is going to be hallowed ground in our city and this is going to produce the best of the Warriors."
Martin recalled a resolution, introduced by then councilman Randy Craig (whose father, David Craig, was the Harford County executive) the Havre de Grace City Council passed in 2011, in which the members resolved they wanted a new school for its community.
"That's what got the ball rolling," Martin said. "And nobody picked up that ball greater than David Glenn."
Glenn, a city councilman and 1975 HHS graduate, spoke frequently at Harford County Board of Education meetings, lobbying on behalf of Warrior Pride, the group formed to support a new school.
First the members lobbied David Craig, then Glassman, who when he became executive told Havre de Grace a new school would have to put on hold temporarily until the county could regain its financial footing.
As a Havre de Grace High grad, that was a difficult decision to make, Glassman recalled.
The first proposal sent to state education officials included building only a new high school. After that request was rejected, Harford County Board of Education member Thomas Fitzpatrick said, they began to consider a combined school, noting the success at Patterson Mill High and Middle School that was completed a decade earlier.
Both schools were aging — Havre de Grace High opened in 1955 and Havre de Grace Middle was built in 1967, he said.
The county executive committed to the project "and now we're here to share and celebrate this great day," Fitzpatrick said.
Glenn said it was mostly the students who helped tell the story of the need for a new high school, he said, bringing up concerns about security, safety, technological shortcomings.
"Now the students will have all the bells and whistles to go with the great teachers and administrators that will without a doubt enhance their educational experience and educational success," Glenn said. "To the students, while this is a great day for Havre de Grace, more importantly it's a huge victory for you and one long overdue."
Once the new school is built and occupied, the existing high school building at Congress Avenue and Juniata Street will be demolished and a parking lot will be built in its place.
The auditorium and gymnasium building on the south side of Congress Avenue is slated for demolition, too, unless an alternate use is proposed and developed outside of the school system, an HCPS official said last month. The existing middle school will be demolished, too, once the new building is occupied.
School system officials expect schedules will continue as normal for the middle and high school during construction, and activity on the new site will not interfere with their daily operations.
Glassman made sure to remember the construction crews that are building the new school.
"Remember the men and women who build things in America, who move the dirt, who lay the pipes, who run their wires and that will build this school. Have a safe building season, good weather and bring it to us on budget and on schedule," the county executive said. "God bless this building operation and project, may it give the generations to follow a place to enter and learn to serve, like many of our graduates."