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After years of delays, limited renovation of Joppatowne High moves forward

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Hazel Morgan’s sons graduated from Joppatowne High School in 1996 and 1997, and even back then she was looking forward to a renovation of the building, which opened in 1972.

“I’m here to say I’m thrilled to death to see the renovation of Joppatowne High School is going to move forward,” Morgan told members of the Harford County Board of Education Monday night before the members voted unanimously to approve the educational specifications for the renovations.

The estimated construction costs for the renovation of Joppatown High is about $29 million.

The board also approved Monday a contract for nearly $2 million with Banta Campbell Architects Inc. for architectural and engineering services for the project.

When Robert Frisch joined the school board nine years ago, he went to Joppatowne High and said the conditions there compared to other schools in Harford County were “embarrassing.”

A project to install a turf field and redo the track and tennis courts, as well as a coat of paint to spruce it up to make it look more inviting didn’t address major shortcomings of the facility, Frisch said.

He remembers seeing drawings of what the school could look like if it were renovated, and it was “absolutely fabulous,” he said.

“This addresses some of the deficiencies and I’m so, so happy that finally we’re starting to move on this project,” said Frisch, who attended his last school board meeting as a member Monday night.

A scope study for a school renovation was done in 2009, but because of fiscal constraints, it was put on hold along with other projects for many years, Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations, told the board.

“We’re here to move forward, finally,” Brown said.

The board had considered doing strictly systemic renovations, such as major HVAC replacement and addressing structural issues, ADA deficiencies, and safety and security concerns, but the state rejected the idea and suggested the limited renovation, Chris Morton, supervisor of planning and construction, said.

A limited renovation includes the systemic renovations as well as educational initiatives, he said.

The educational specifications for the project unanimously approved Monday call for a capacity of about 1,094 students, a decrease from its existing capacity of 1,126.

It includes special classroom spaces for the Homeland Security Signature Program.

Morgan, when speaking to the board, asked that the Homeland Security program, one that “will ensure jobs for [students] over the next 50 years,” be fully funded so it can be open to all students in Harford County.

The homeland security space will include a blackbox theater for mock trials as well as adjoining classrooms and seminar rooms that can be opened up to make room for guest speakers to come in but also to separate those for small group work, according to Missy Valentino, facilities planner of planning and construction.

Other special spaces will be for the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and an impending partnership with Harford Community College to offer college-level courses to students in the Joppatowne High School building.

Frisch said he was glad to hear the JROTC program hasn’t been forgotten about. He knows some things still need to be worked out, but he’s hopeful it will come to Harford because he saw first-hand the positive impact it had when he was at Kenwood High School.

“It was so beneficial to so many students, especially students on the edge, it gave them the kind of discipline, the structure they needed to be successful,” Frisch said. “I know a lot of those kids would never have graduated. I’d love to see that here in Harford County.”

He also called the HCC partnership “forward thinking and visionary,” and said it will give students a leg up when the graduate high school, that they’ll already be “ahead of the game when it comes to their college experience.”

It also includes special spaces for the labs for child development, graphics and professional food classes, two science labs, flex space to offer classes through HCC and space for educational life skills, Valentino said.

In all, 159 spaces in the building, totaling 121,554 square feet, will undergo major or minor renovations during the project.

The educational specifications must be submitted to the Maryland Board of Education by July 1 to be considered for funding in the FY2021 and FY2022 budgets.

Once approved for funding, school officials said they hope to bid and award a contract next summer, and construction will take 18 to 24 months.

Capital funds budget

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved the FY2020 capital funds budget of more than $43.7 million.

At last week’s meeting, the board approved a $478.8 million operating budget, an $18.3 million food service budget and a $33.95 million restricted budget for FY2020.

The board had to wait for the state to finalize its capital budget before approving its own.

Once it was approved, adjustments had to be made because more local money became available, Brown said.

Earlier this year, the state considered changing the 63-37 split — the state pays 63% and the local government pays 37% — for capital projects to 60-40, but ultimately decided against the change. In preparing its budget the school system planned on having to pay the greater share, 40 percent, and when the state did not make the change, the school board was left with an additional $659,250 in local money to spend.

The extra money was taken from several projects and put toward others. Funds came from Roye-Williams Elementary ($237,000), Hickory Elementary ($45,750), George D. Lisby Elementary at Hillsdale ($210,000) and North Bend Elementary ($166,500), and distributed to two other projects — the roof replacement at Aberdeen Middle, which came in $263,000 over what was budgeted, and systemwide ADA improvements ($396,250).

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