Harford County, which is in the midst of its most extensive school construction programs in more than a decade, has added a new elementary school in the Bel Air area to the mix.
County Executive James M. Harkins disclosed last week that the county has begun looking for land for the construction of the elementary school, which is expected to serve up to 750 pupils.
"We have to do it," said John J. O'Neill Jr., the county's director of administration. "The decision is based on the fact that the majority of the schools in the Bel Air area are overcrowded.
"To give these schools relief, we are working with the Board [of Education] to put a new school on the books," he said. "It is probably three or four years out before we actually start construction, but it has to be done because of the growth."
Joseph Licata, assistant schools superintendent for operations, said the five elementary schools in the Bel Air area are collectively about 6 percent over capacity.
With an anticipated 500 new pupils by 2008, the schools -- Forest Hill, Forest Lakes, Hickory, Prospect Mill and Fountain Green -- would have 16.5 percent more pupils than they were designed to handle, Licata said.
Harkins noted that he will be in office for only another two years, but said: "You have to look to the future. You have to plan now. You have to buy land. You have got to get your ducks in a row."
School board President Robert B. Thomas Jr. welcomed Harkins' commitment to the new elementary school, saying the project would not happen without county funding.
Thomas said that "in spite of what some believe in Harford County, school construction is moving forward these days at a quicker pace than any time since the late 1980s or early '90s."
He said the county completed the construction of Aberdeen High School this year. It is in the midst of a major renovation of North Harford High School and will be breaking ground in the summer on the Patterson Mill middle and high school project.
Thomas noted that a new Bel Air High School is in the planning stages, and said: "It will be a challenge for this county executive and the next one to come up with the money to fund these projects."
He said the board has more than $400 million in capital project spending over the next decade, "and that can't be accomplished without an adequate revenue source."
Harkins said the county is forward-funding the Patterson Mill complex, which means that the county is paying the full cost of the $63 million project with a hope, but no guarantee, that the state will reimburse the county half of the cost.
Concerning the new elementary school, he expressed hope that the state would pay its share of the cost.
The new elementary school will be the first since Forest Hill opened in 2000, according to schools spokesman Donald R. Morrison.
Licata said the school would be about 70,000 square feet and cost about $12 million.
He said that in terms of population, Bel Air is one of the fastest-growing sections within the county's development area.
The county operates 32 elementary schools. Licata said construction of the new Bel Air area elementary school would likely start in 2008, and he expects the school to be open in 2011.