Parents, principals and school officials have decided that instead of constructing a pedestrian tunnel for students at the North Harford schools complex, they will spend a $100,000 allotment from the county executive to expand parking and build a separate bus entrance at North Harford High School.
The tunnel proposal has been discussed since 1993, but for the second year in a row, funding will go toward other road-safety improvements.
"It was a unanimous agreement," said Peggy Bowser, a parent who has pushed for the tunnel linking the schools.
The tunnel, or underpass, is still a priority, she said, but parents and principals from the three schools decided in a meeting with Superintendent Ray R. Keech in March that alleviating parking problems at the high school was a better use for the money this year.
The North Harford complex comprises three schools: North Harford Elementary and North Harford Middle on the north side of Pylesville Road and North Harford High on the south side.
An expanded student parking lot and a separate bus entrance are expected to relieve congestion at the 1,000-student high school.
But the safety of students crossing Pylesville Road between the schools is still a concern.
"We're waiting for a catastrophe to happen," said Mrs. Bowser, whose children attend the elementary and middle schools. hTC "Some people feel that the underpass is unnecessary; I can only tell you that more than 28,000 times in a school year, a child crosses that road."
Middle school students in physical education class cross the road to use the high school's track. High school swimmers and tennis players use the middle school's pool and tennis courts. The high school lacrosse team plays on a field next to the elementary school. Students also cross the road for tutoring and special programs at the different schools.
All three schools have entrances for parking lots and bus lanes that twice daily empty traffic onto Route 165, Pylesville Road, in addition to the 4,450 vehicles that drive by the schools every day, according to 1993 state Department of Transportation figures.
Designing and building the tunnel would cost $225,000 to
$230,000, according to a state engineer.
State Sen. William H. Amoss and Del. Donald C. Fry, both of Harford County, said they are confident that the state will provide money to construct the tunnel if the county commits its ** $100,000.
The opportunity to get state funding this year has passed, but Mr. Amoss has not given up.
"I feel there is a real need for the tunnel," he said. "I would be very optimistic about trying to get it done, but [the parents] have to feel it's a priority."
County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said she has given as much money as possible this year to the North Harford complex. "My commitment was to fund and keep on funding this," she said, and how to spend that money is up to parents and school officials.
Mr. Amoss said the North Harford parents and principals, who originally proposed the tunnel, need to decide to build it before he can officially request money from the state.
Lights that flash mornings and afternoons, two painted crosswalks, additional entrances to the schools, parking lot improvements and lighting were paid for with $100,000 from the school system's 1994-1995 operating budget. The state paid for widening the road and adding streetlights.
Peter McCallum, president of the North Harford High School Parent Teacher Student Association, called the improvements "a promising start" but said he, too, would like to see a tunnel constructed eventually.
The extra lighting, entrances and crosswalks are helpful, said Gerald A. Scarborough, principal of North Harford Middle School, but more should be done to ensure the safety of students. "I will let other people make the decision of, 'Would it be safer to have them going under the roadway or would it be safer to have them crossing' " traffic, he said.
All of the middle school students cross the road at some point during the year, he said.
"We still have a large number of crossings of the roadway during daylight hours, and we need to do everything we can to make it as safe as possible," Mr. Scarborough said.
On a recent afternoon, as students were dismissed from the high school and then the middle school, a steady stream of school buses filled the road.
As the bus traffic died down, cars and trucks whizzed down the road as the high school's baseball and tennis teams came out for practice. Several tennis players jogged across the road to use the courts behind the middle school.
Randy Krastel, a senior at North Harford, is one of the baseball players who parked his car in the middle school parking lot because it is closer to the field across the street than the high school's lot is.
A tunnel is needed "because there have been a couple of close calls," said Randy, who crosses the road almost every day.