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New school system headquarters recommended


Harford County's Board of Education should fight for money to construct a school administration building to replace its 113-year-old building and rented suites, a board-appointed commission has recommended.

Termite infestation, antiquated electrical and plumbing systems, and too little space for offices and meetings are just some of the reasons the Harford school system needs a new headquarters, according to the commission.

Selling the main office building at 45 E. Gordon St. in Bel Air and a house-turned-office building across the street could help pay for a new facility, Raymond W. Hamm Jr. said.

He led the Blue Ribbon Commission on Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Productivity Projects, which studied school system office, warehouse and workshop space this summer.

"The Gordon Street location is pathetic, [and] the Proctor House old and jam-packed," said Mr. Hamm, an executive vice president and senior loan officer with County Banking and Trust Co. The Proctor House is an old, two-story frame house with peeling white paint that contains some of the executive offices that don't fit into 45 E. Gordon St.

Inaccessibility for people with disabilities is another problem, according to people who work in the Gordon Street buildings.

The main building is a hodgepodge of a two-story schoolhouse built in 1882, a one-story addition and two temporary classrooms installed decades ago.

With steps at the entrances, differing floor levels connected by steps throughout, and two steep staircases, the building has neither an elevator nor wheelchair ramps.

One father who arrived for a discipline conference found he couldn't even get into the building with his wheelchair. "Fortunately it was a nice spring day, so they held the conference out there on a picnic table," said John M. Mead, executive director of pupil services.

The building may appear "quaint" on the outside, said personnel supervisor Kathleen M. Eng, but "it gives an impression of the system that is not really what our system is about."

The Board of Education holds public meetings in schools because of the small size and poor sound quality of the boardroom on Gordon Street.

Constructing the 60,000-square-foot building the school system needs would cost about $6 million, or $100 per square foot, according to Roger C. Niles, assistant superintendent for administrative services. A six-acre site the school system owns behind the Wakefield building of Homestead/Wakefield Elementary School is a possible location, he said.

The cost estimate does not take into account the commission's suggestion that county offices and the school system could share a new facility.

The commission cited several reasons for getting rid of the Gordon Street buildings and constructing a central facility.

* Three rented office suites on Main Street cost the school system about $200,000 a year. The offices house instructional supervisors and the construction department.

* Dilapidated buildings make a poor first impression on prospective teachers and government officials visiting the county.

* Information stored in file cabinets instead of in computerized records takes up valuable space.

* The Gordon Street parking lot is too small.

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