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Mount Hebron fix delayed

The Baltimore Sun

Approval of a renovation plan for Mount Hebron High School will be delayed until May, after a comparative survey of four Howard County schools is completed.

Mount Hebron, Atholton, Centennial and Hammond - all schools of similar age - will be evaluated on their maintenance conditions and how those conditions relate to the day-to-day functions at the each school.

The seven-member Board of Education was scheduled to approve a renovation plan for Mount Hebron at Thursday's meeting. Instead, members agreed to delay the vote pending the results of a survey being conducted by an architecture firm.

"I can't in good conscience look at Mount Hebron in isolation," said Vice Chairman Frank Aquino.

The assessment will compare the four schools to the current system standards for new schools such as Marriotts Ridge High, which opened in 2005.

Owings Mills-based Gilbert Architects will assess maintenance issues based on the Association of Physical Plant Administrators guidelines.

Ken Roey, the school system's executive director of facilities and management, said members of the firm have begun the comparison study at Mount Hebron, which opened in 1964 as a junior high and, according to the school system, has had six additions and four renovations.

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin favors a $49.8 million plan that would include mechanical upgrades, full systemic renovations and an expansion of the school's art, athletic and administrative offices.

Many parents want a new school built, while others want plumbing, sewage and rodent problems addressed. Some want the school system to further investigate other alternatives.

Mount Hebron staff members - most of whom want a new school - sent a letter detailing their concerns to County Executive Ken Ulman and County Council members.

The letter, signed by 99 employees, lists 21 problems that might persist after the renovation, including unsafe and narrow hallways in instruction areas, asbestos, mold and inadequate plumbing.

Because there have been so many opinions about what to do, board Chairman Diane Mikulis said she was in favor of an independent study of the facility.

"We need to prioritize what is the problem at Mount Hebron," Mikulis said Thursday. "Different people want different things."

Roey warned the board that the longer it waits to make a decision, the greater the possibility that construction costs could increase.

"I think we know enough about Mount Hebron to know what we should do," he said. Roey recommends that the school board approve Cousin's $49.8 million plan.

Cindy Ardinger, vice president of the Mount Hebron PTSA, said she thought the board's decision was the right one.

"Our hope is that this is a short delay," Ardinger said Friday. "We realize that this is a countywide issue. ... I think our problems are too great and too well-known to be ignored at this point."

An initial assessment of Mount Hebron's wastewater and freshwater piping indicated that both are in good condition, Roey said.

The school's sewage system, which was installed as part of a 1999 addition, is up to code, he added.

Board members were told Thursday that Mount Hebron would receive some maintenance next week, when the school is closed for spring break. Cousin said a "custodial cleanup" of the facility would occur, and that the school would get new carpeting, tiles and paint.

Board members also discussed a physical survey of all county schools, which has been talked about for years but has been unfunded. Last year, a $500,000 survey was completed that measured the equity of some school facilities. In the proposed 2008 operating budget, $1.5 million has been requested to survey the entire school system.

"I think we'll all feel more comfortable after we see the results of that study," Mikulis said.

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