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Renovation of Mount Hebron approved

The Baltimore Sun

The Howard County Board of Education has voted in favor of a $57 million construction plan to enlarge and renovate Mount Hebron High School.

The plan would add eight classrooms, increase the building by 60,000 square feet, expand the width of most hallways in the school to at least 10 feet and add 523 square feet to the 9,195-quare-foot cafeteria.

Although a few more details have to be worked out, the schematic design approved Thursday night is very close -- 90 percent to 95 percent -- to the way the school will be built, according to Ken Roey, executive director of facilities and management for the system.

"We don't have the option of building a new school," said Ellen Flynn Giles, the board's vice chair. "That is absolutely out of the question. This positions us well. I like the way it looks."

Diane Mikulis, the board member who voted against the plan, said she was worried about other projects that might get deferred because of the amount of money needed for Mount Hebron.

"I'm worried about the small things," Mikulis said. "I have a problem with not taking care of them [other schools] for the sake of one."

The board will lock-in the design for the renovation in July, according to Roey. "Tonight's vote authorized us to proceed into the final design phase," he said, adding that the project would be bid in November, and that construction would begin in the spring of 2009. Completion is expected by the end of 2011, Roey said.

The project would cost $3 million more than a plan Roey presented to the board in February. The school board has requested $27 million for the project in the 2009 capital budget. Any increases would be addressed in future budgets.

The condition of Mount Hebron, which opened in 1964 as a junior high, has been a contentious issue in the school system in recent years. The most recent example was when a group of Mount Hebron teachers three days before the vote sent a proposal to County Executive Ken Ulman, County Council members and the school board, asking them to consider building a replacement school instead of a renovation.

The group wants an evaluation process to be adopted if the cost of a renovation exceeds 50 percent of the cost of a new building.

The group has been able to collect 105 signatures of staff members at Mount Hebron for their "position paper," according to organizers. Organizers of the group had urged elected officials to study school systems in the state such as in Harford and Montgomery counties, where new high schools are being planned.

Mary Jane Barbato Grasso, president of the Howard County PTA Council, mentioned the other schools when she addressed the board shortly before the vote.

Barbato Grasso, who is not part of the teachers group, said Harford County can build a replacement high school for $54 million. She said the plan for the school in Harford County would build a school that would exceed the Maryland Department of Education requirements for classroom size needed to provide current curriculum.

"I think we need to rethink how we are spending our tax dollars," she said.

Raymond Brown, the school system's chief operating officer, told the board that he was very familiar with Harford County because he previously served as a deputy superintendent there.

He said he also contacted Harford County and Charles County, which recently completed an extensive survey of school construction plans in Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland. A new school would cost $80 million to $90 million, he said.

In addition, Brown said that it was unfair to compare Howard County to Harford County because the school system here is paying off bonds for construction projects at Mount Hebron that have been completed in the past decade.

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin told Barbato Grasso that the construction project she was talking about was in fact more than $87 million.

Before the vote, board members learned that Mount Hebron's physical condition was ranked lowest of the 12 high schools in the county, according to an assessment conducted by an independent architecture firm.


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