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Harford school board seeks funding to fix North Harford Middle pool leak

Swimmers compete during a high school meet held at the North Harford Middle School pool in January 2015. The aging pool needs nearly $700,000 in reapairs, but school officials have decided to seek just enough money from the county and state to repair a leak, which will cost $352,000.
Swimmers compete during a high school meet held at the North Harford Middle School pool in January 2015. The aging pool needs nearly $700,000 in reapairs, but school officials have decided to seek just enough money from the county and state to repair a leak, which will cost $352,000. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF / Baltimore Sun)

Next year's capital spending package for Harford County Public Schools, as approved by the Board of Education Monday, includes enough money to cover the estimated cost of repairing a major leak in the North Harford Middle School swimming pool.

But the board's action delays fully funding nearly $700,000 in repairs that consultants have said are needed to the 40-year-old pool.

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"The way I see it, this would get us, hopefully, the money to pay to repair the leak, and then hopefully we don't have a catastrophic failure of the other parts that are needed to operate the pool," school board Vice President Joseph Voskuhl said.

School officials put $250,000 in the fiscal 2018 capital budget request, which was first presented to the board last September, as a "place holder" for pool repairs. An engineering report since prepared by SEI Architects, of Rockville, indicates an estimated cost of $697,419 to repair the leak in the main drain line, as well as fixing other pipes, filtration systems and decking.

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Voskuhl made an amendment Monday to add $102,316 to cover the estimated $352,316 cost of just repairing the leak, based on the engineering report.

Months of pleas by members of the public to the Harford County Board of Education to rescind a drama participation fee and restore funding for the high school swimming program and pool maintenance, as well as overnight visits to the Harford Glen Environmental Education Center, paid off Monday when the board members unanimously approved an operating budget request that meets all three of those goals.

The amendment was approved 5-4, as board members debated either fully funding the immediate repairs – the leak, keeping the original $250,000 in the capital budget and adding more money at a later time if needed, or funding the full slate of repairs.

"If you do a project like this in pieces, it's the absolutely most expensive way to do any kind of construction," board member Tom Fitzpatrick said, drawing of his 30 years of experience in the construction business.

Fitzpatrick voted in favor of Voskuhl's amendment, though, as did board members Joseph Hau, Rachel Gauthier and board President Nancy Reynolds. Board members Laura Runyeon, Al Williamson, Jansen Robinson and Robert Frisch voted against it, while student representative Amanda Dorsey cast a "preferential" vote in favor.

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The board then voted unanimously for the amended $86.08 million capital budget request, which will be sent to the county and state, will have the final say over how much of the request gets funded.

There are 39 items in the capital request, including the Havre de Grace Middle/High School replacement. That, along with three other major projects, is slated for state and local funding.

The Harford County Board of Education is to be commended for overruling Barbara Canavan, superintendent of schools, and approving funds for programs she proposed cutting. Now, it's time for the board and Canavan to come up with a more realistic budget for the school system as it exists in 2017 – not 1997.

The rest of the varied items, such as the pool renovations, a new generator and commercial dryers for the Harford Glen Environmental Education Center, technology upgrades, replacing school buses, will be locally funded.

Williamson noted money from the HCPS operating fund balance, or cash reserves, could be used to cover the pool repairs.

"If we did get in a bind, it is board policy to use that as one-time expenditure," he said. "It is an option."

The North Harford Middle School pool is one of three pools operated by HCPS; the other pools are at Magnolia Middle School and Edgewood Middle School.

All three pools were built in the late 1970s, and concerns about the cost of fixing leaks and replacing aging infrastructure led Superintendent Barbara Canavan and her top aides to recommend closing the pools and ending the interscholastic swimming program during last year's budget process.

The Harford County Board of Education faced a packed house and more pleas for swimming, drama and Harford Glen during its fourth and final public input session on the fiscal 2018 budget. Possible savings also were discussed, such as putting high and middle school students on the same buses.

The board faced a public outcry and used a one-time payment from the fund balance to keep the pools open through the current school year. Another public outcry ensued earlier this year when Canavan submitted an operating budget with funds cut for pool maintenance and the swim program.

Hours of protests and pleas at public sessions on the budget from high school swimmers, their parents, HCPS graduates and community advocates, even middle school students who use the pools and want to become high school swimmers, followed.

The board voted during its Jan. 23 meeting in favor of a $456.06 million operating budget that included restored funding for the swimming program and the pools, restoring funding for overnight visits at Harford Glen and rescinding a deeply unpopular $100 drama participation fee.

The board delayed voting on the capital budget until Monday, so board members could review the engineering report on the North Harford Middle pool.

The pool has been experiencing an ongoing leak; it lost 1 inch of water, or about 2,000 gallons, a day last year, and it is losing half an inch, or 500 gallons, a day this year, according to Patti Jo Beard, executive director of facilities management.

The water to fill the pool comes from the wells that provide water throughout the school.

With one last public input session on the Harford County Public Schools superintendent's proposed budget for the next school year scheduled for Thursday night, many of the same subjects debated at three earlier sessions are again expected to be front and center.

Joseph Licata, chief of administration, noted the cost estimates for the pool repairs, like other capital projects, are based on measures such as historical data from similar projects in the past and standard costs per square foot.

He stressed the actual costs will become known once the workers get a better idea of the scope of the project. Cornell Brown, assistant superintendent for operations, noted the pipes are 10 to 15 feet below the pool decking, so workers must dig to get to them.

"I don't think there's a right or wrong answer," Licata said. "It's a judgment that we have to make based on the information that we have and the information that we all believe to be true."



Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.
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