Last spring, the Hayden administration took the long-planned $25 million renovation of Towson High School off Baltimore County's six-year capital budget.
Yesterday, County Executive Roger B. Hayden put it at the top of the list.
Mr. Hayden fielded a phone call last week about the school on his radio talk show. He also has received letters complaining about the school. On Friday, he toured the school to see for himself.
The result is an offer to put money for a consultant and initial planning for the project in the county's capital budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. Construction money would come the next year.
The school board is to consider the consultant proposal at tonight's meeting.
The renovation can be done without displacing other school projects because $38 million of school bond money authorized in 1990 has not been spent, Mr. Hayden said.
The consultant would be charged with finding out if Towson High can be modernized and enlarged for less than $25 million. If that is not possible, Mr. Hayden said he would consider building a new structure.
William Jones, an English teacher at Towson High, said the renovation has been discussed for 20 years, "seriously for the past 15 years."
However, it has been pushed aside by less expensive projects such as the $15 million renovation of Hereford High and the $18 million renovation of Milford Mill High. The state paid $11 million toward the Milford Mill project, $3.8 million toward Hereford.
Towson High was built in 1949 and suffers from problems common in old schools. Ancient radiators clog, make rooms too hot or too cold; windows stick or are drafty. The old electrical system isn't powerful enough to handle modern computer labs. The high ceilings waste heat, and the roof is bad.
Last summer, movie director John Waters found the building perfect for his tale about a deranged suburban mother. Those who work and learn there are not as thrilled.
Mr. Jones, who has spent the past two years organizing the fight for Towson, has recruited Towson's county councilman, Republican Douglas B. Riley of the 4th District.Mr. Jones has also urged the school's 15,000 alumni to complain to Mr. Hayden.
Mr. Jones and Mr. Riley also have enlisted area elementary school PTAs, telling them the situation at Towson High will only get worse if the expansion is not approved now.
James Kraft, planner for county schools, said Towson High now holds 1,176 students. The expansion would increase capacity to 1,800.
The last high school built in the state is a 1,600-student building in Montgomery County. It cost $23.4 million, he said. Under current reduced state funding formulas, the county can't expect Annapolis to come up with more than a fraction of the cost for the Towson project, he said.
Risa Schwartz, who is in her first year as principal at Towson, said she received a brief warning of Mr. Hayden's visit but was happy to guide him.
"I'm feeling encouraged," she said yesterday. "I'm feeling very positive."