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Harford school board approves contracts for new Havre de Grace school complex

Havre de Grace High School staff stand outside the school on Maroon Monday, wearing their school colors in anticipation that the Harford County Board of Education would approve contracts that evening to build a new school.
Havre de Grace High School staff stand outside the school on Maroon Monday, wearing their school colors in anticipation that the Harford County Board of Education would approve contracts that evening to build a new school. (Courtesy photo/Adam Rybczynski)

Monday was a red letter day in Havre de Grace, well actually a maroon one, in the community’s long effort to secure a new high school building.

The good word traveled fast via text and then messenger from Bel Air to Havre de Grace Monday night, after the Harford County Board of Education approved more than $81 million in contracts that will start the construction of the new Havre de Grace High School/Middle School complex.

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Construction is expected to start next spring, and the building should be ready by 2020, according to Harford County Public Schools officials.

Victoria Nelson, a senior at Havre de Grace High School, thanked the school board before the vote “on behalf of myself, my younger siblings and every other future Havre de Grace alumni.”

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Nelson, who expects to graduate next spring, will not experience the new high school, but younger students such as her siblings and their classmates will.

“Thank you for giving us not only giving us a better school but a brighter future too,” she said during the public comment portion of Monday’s board meeting.

Nelson’s sister, Lauren, a fifth grader at Meadowvale Elementary School in Havre de Grace, said she hopes she will be part of the first class of freshmen that graduates from the new HHS.

“From the bottom of my heart, I truly thank you and wish you all a wonderful holiday season,” Lauren told board members.

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Claire Bond, another Meadowvale fifth grader, gave her thanks and said she thinks students will “want to come to school in a nice, new building.”

“The community has been so excited to see this building be built, so thank you very much for supporting this project,” Claire said.

Meanwhile, “It was Maroon Monday” in Havre de Grace, Mayor William Martin said, explaining why he and the council members were wearing casual maroon shirts at Monday night’s Havre de Grace City Council meeting instead of the more typical suits, ties and dress clothes.

The council joined students at Havre de Grace High School and Middle School wearing maroon, the school’s primary color, as a show of support of what was expected to be great news coming from the school board meeting.

“We even delayed Students of the Month until the next meeting as to not take away from the momentous occasion of having a contract approved for the new high school,” Martin said.

Fifteen miles to the west in Bel Air, the school board voted 7-0 on each of the contracts, which together total $81,630,000.

Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations, and Chris Morton, supervisor of planning and construction, presented the recommended bids to the school board.

“We’re proud to say here that we have a fiscally responsible recommendation for our board today for all of the services related to the project so that we can move forward,” Brown said.

Morton told board members HCPS staff had the option of accepting bid packages that reflect the prevailing wage rate paid to construction workers or the non-prevailaing wage rate.

Prevailing wage rates kick in on projects that cost at least $500,000 and the local entity accepts state funds for at least 25 percent of the cost, according to Morton.

The prevailing wage reflects hourly wages, benefits and overtime paid to construction workers and mechanics in “a particular area,” according to a Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation web page.

Harford school officials estimate the base bids for construction contracts would cost $74.9 million using the non-prevailing wage rate, compared to $84.3 million with prevailing wages, according to documents Morton presented to the board.

He said HCPS is accepting state funding for 24.99 percent of the construction contracts, meaning non-prevailing wages can be used, the state saves more than $3 million and any unused state funds from the Havre de Grace project can be reserved for a future capital project.

Thomas Fitzpatrick, the school board member representing Havre de Grace, had the honor of making the motions to approve the contracts.

“I have to confess that I’ve been waiting for quite a long time to have the opportunity to make this motion,” said Fitzpatrick, who has worked with the community for five years to get the new replacement school building approved.

Havre de Grace City Council President David Glenn is getting more and more excited about a new combined middle and high school in the city. He and Mayor Bill Martin met several weeks ago to discuss with Harford County Executive Barry Glassman what will happen to the gymnasium and auditorium once the new school is built.

He made motions to accept a recommended $76.5 million in construction contracts with assorted contractors, a $1.16 million contract with Grimm and Parker Architects for architectural and engineering services and $3.97 million with Hess Construction Co. for construction management services.

Board members Nancy Reynolds, Alfred Williamson and Robert Frisch were absent.

Fitzpatrick, a Havre de Grace resident, lauded those who stuck with the project over the years in the face of skepticism from state officials who oversee new school construction and typically look at enrollment as a major factor in building a new school.

Havre de Grace High School has 775 students, according to the HCPS website, and it has one of the lowest enrollments of Harford County’s 10 public high schools. Enrollment system-wide has been declining for years, although it is picking up.

Fitzpatrick said school system staff “did a yeoman’s job of walking this project through minefield of politics and bureaucracy.”

He said advocates won the state’s support by characterizing the middle and high schools as “community schools,” or essential parts of the Havre de Grace community.

Fitzpatrick thanked city leaders, HCPS staff, present and former school board members, the Harford County government and County Council for their support.

Back in Havre de Grace, the City Council went into closed session at 7:32 p.m. to meet with George DeHority, its finance director, about his job performance and a new contract. At about 8 p.m., David Glenn, the City Council president and tireless advocate for the new school, emerged from that meeting with the news that he had just received a text message saying the contract had been approved.

His report brought sounds of joy from the handful of people gathered in the council chambers waiting for the council meeting to resume.

During his report near the end of the council meeting, Glenn recalled the journey to getting a contract approved from his first days on the council about six years ago. He said when he started on the council that no one was talking about a new school. He credited the students, their parents, the school community and all of the Havre de Grace community for the Warrior Proud movement that led to Monday night’s school board approval.

“What once wasn’t a priority, became a priority,” he said.

Taryn Martin, the mayor’s wife, appeared at the end of the meeting to repeat the good news. She also singled out Glenn, for his six tireless years on the project, and Casi Tomarchio, the newly installed council member, for her work, too.

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The mayor’s wife said the school board expects to hear back from the state Board of Public Works with its approval around Jan. 10.

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