Home construction lag may delay school plans OK for new buildings is unlikely, official says


For the first time in several years, the Harford County school board will not ask the county for money to plan or build a new school.

Superintendent Ray R. Keech said plans to build a 600-student elementary school northwest of Bel Air off Vale Road and another school in the Creswell area off Route 543 would be put off this year because he did not believe the county would pay for planning the schools and because home construction was slowing.

Only last month, the school board wanted to build both schools in time to open in 1998 to accommodate an expected influx of thousands of new elementary school students from housing developments in those areas. It would have needed $1 million from the county to plan the two schools.

But getting approval to build the schools from the county and the state was unlikely this year, Mr. Keech said last week at a meeting between the school board and the county's General Assembly delegation.

"In a tight fiscal year, we are finding that it is not likely that we are going to get funding," he said. "We would like to do more planning, but in tight fiscal circumstances it looks like we are going to have to wait."

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said the projected numbers of new students were not enough to justify the new schools to the state. She also wanted the board to consider whether the Abingdon area would need a new school before the area northwest of Bel Air or Creswell.

"I think a school is going to be needed in both areas" -- Bel Air and Abingdon, Mrs. Rehrmann said. "I think it is a question of prioritizing the first and second."

Three-year-old Abingdon Elementary School is more than 200 students over capacity, and seven portable classrooms there house the extra students. But redistricting to send some Abingdon Elementary students to schools that are below capacity could stave off the need for a new school in that area for years, Mr. Keech said.

He said disagreement with county officials on where a new school would be needed first did not affect the board's decision to strike the West Bel Air school from its list of construction projects.

In the Bel Air area, a Forest Lakes area elementary school is scheduled to open in 1997 with a capacity of 600 students. But that school and five existing Bel Air elementary schools could be overloaded by more than 2,000 students by the end of the century without another new school, the superintendent's office told the school board in June.

But projected overcrowding is not enough to convince the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction, which decides which projects will get funding.

The school board will vote on its final list of construction projects at its meeting tomorrow at 7 p.m. in the C. Milton Wright High School auditorium. The list calls for about $15.7 million in county money and about $6.3 million in state money to pay for portable classrooms, renovations, roofing replacements and other work on county school buildings.

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