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Slow enrollment growth delays 2 school projects


Planning and construction of Forest Lake Elementary School and an addition to C. Milton Wright High School will be delayed by at least a year because the number of new students in the county fell short of expectations.

The school board voted Monday to delay the two projects, which were to have been completed by September 1995.

The delay could lop about $1 million off the $19 million 1993-1994 capital budget the school board approved in July.

That budget included $331,000 in planning money for the elementary school and $250,000 for C. Milton Wright. The C. Milton Wright money also was targeted for a second gym, which the school board said it still wanted to build for current students.

Council members, who also were asked to approve building Country Walk Elementary and an addition to Bel Air Middle School, questioned the board's construction schedule. Construction on the two projects will begin next year and be completed in 1994.

"I'm afraid we're planning for days that are already gone and that after we build the last school, we'll be closing the first one," said Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson.

"Let me assure you of one thing," replied Ray R. Keech, Harford's school superintendent. "We are not, and will not, overbuild. We are building for the kids that are already here. Our student population projections have been extremely accurate."

He said school officials had predicted 1,336 new students for this school year, but have 985, bringing the system's total to 34,000.

Ronald Eaton, a school board member, attributed the slower growth to a decline in the county's housing industry.

The school board, using figures provided by the state and county, had expected 2,200 to 2,500 houses to be built in Harford in 1992, with one additional school-age child for every two houses, Mr. Eaton said. But only about 2,000 houses are expected to be built by the end of the year, he said.

Mr. Keech said the school system also lost about 200 children of military personnel at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

APG has told the school system to expect another 350 children by June. Adding those students would make the school system's projections "right on target," Mr. Keech said.

The board predicts 40,840 students will be in Harford's classrooms by 1997 -- an increase of 12,840, or nearly 46 percent, over the student population of 28,000 in 1987.

"We'll still need the Forest Lake Elementary School and the C. Milton Wright High School addition, but the numbers don't justify starting those projects now," Mr. Keech said.

He said the lower-than-expected enrollment means plans to buy six relocatable classrooms for $62,000 to $82,000 each also will be delayed.

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