Schools' building program under fire Criticism unfair, supervisor says


To Harford County school system's supervisor of construction, most of the criticism heaped on the system's building program is unfair.

"What you don't hear about is that we have built over $100 million worth of projects in the last five years on time and on budget," said Joseph Licata, the system's construction chief. "The criticism we are taking, especially from the media, is simply unfair."

The school system, which has three employees, including Mr. Licata, supervising more than $40 million worth of projects this school year, has had well publicized construction problems.

Fallston Middle School opened two weeks late because of problems that kept the 900-student school from passing a critical fire inspection safety test.

Education officials blame the contractor, Hanover-based Triangle General Contractors Inc., for the problems. Triangle has denied any responsibility.

Most recently, construction on Church Creek Elementary in Belcamp, came to a halt in early September when its contractor, Peter J. Scarpulla Inc., could not continue because of "financial difficulties."

"The contractor at Church Creek went under. That happens, we were lucky that hasn't happened before," Mr. Licata said at a Belcamp community meeting Monday night.

The school system also is taking heat over the proposed renovation of the Havre de Grace Elementary School because its estimates for renovation were off by about $1 million.

Mr. Licata said his original estimates were accurate but that the project's scope changed, from a partial renovation for $1,026,000 to a total renovation for more than $2.3 million.

But Richard W. Daub Jr., president of the school PTA, said the school's educational specifications committee was never told that the $966,000 provided by the county was only for a partial renovation.

He said committee members, which included parents, teachers, administrators and Mr. Licata, met several times in August to decide how to best allocate that money.

The county, responding to what Mr. Licata called "political pressure," made Havre de Grace Elementary the first beneficiary of its tax on real estate transfers, which went into effect on July 1.

Community members, including the city's mayor Gunther Hirsch, organized a group called HOPE, the Havre de Grace Area Organization of Parents for Education. Contending that the city's schools had been neglected while the county built newer schools around Bel Air, the group actively sought money for the city's schools.

Havre de Grace Elementary was at the top of the city's list for renovations, because the 43-year-old school had so many problems, including an outdated electrical system.

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