Baltimore County school officials answer questions about Lansdowne

Baltimore County school officials answer Lansdowne questions

Baltimore County Public Schools officials met with teachers and parents at Lansdowne High School Feb. 25 to present a feasibility study for the building's planned renovation and to address the community's request for a new building.

During the meeting, parents and teachers brought up issues of equity, concerns about asbestos disturbance and stories of leaking roofs and flooded floors. Officials were looking to dispel rumors, for example, that the renovation was only to add air conditioning.

"An AC replacement for this school is not $30 million," said Chief Administrative and Operations Officer Kevin Smith.

The study estimates the renovation will cost more than $35 million before fees, with aesthetic fixes and technology upgrades included. The total project cost is $42.3 million, according to schools spokesman Mychael Dickerson. That number could be higher or lower after the project goes out for bid, officials said.

It is scheduled to be finished by the summer of 2019, Smith said.

One of the biggest concerns, the asbestos in the building, was addressed by Executive Director of Physical Facilities Pete Dixit. Asbestos is a now-condemned carcinogenic construction material found in many old buildings. It can be harmless in things like tiling if left alone, because there is no danger unless the asbestos fibers are released and inhaled into the lungs, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Construction disturbs the material, posing health risks.

The county follows strict federal protocols, Dixit said. No children can be in the building when construction is disturbing asbestos, so the work often takes place at night, over weekends and during summer vacation. Those areas will also be sealed off, and have negative pressure, Dixit said, ensuring no fibers escape. They also take air samples, Dixit said.

In December a broken tile in a storage room in the gym was found to have asbestos in it. In that incident, Baltimore County Public Schools "followed the appropriate environmental and abatement protocols to make sure the area is safe," according to a spokesman.

But Jim Melia, a technology teacher at the school, said that incident and others have shaken their confidence in the county. Wednesday, information was pulled from Baltimore County Public Schools' website after the public pointed out that parts of a feasibility study for a renovation at Dulaney High School contained pages identical to Lansdowne High's study, with different formatting.

"There's a lack of confidence because of our experience with what's going on in facilities," Melia said.

Lansdowne's study has been reposted online, and is available at www.bcps.org/construction/lansdowne. Dulaney High School's study was still gone as of 9 a.m. Feb. 26.

Parents also brought up the possibility of expanding the school. The current renovation keeps the school's footprint the same. However, doing a renovation allows them to remain eligible for additional state funds for an expansion in the future, Smith said.

"The type of renovation that we're doing now does not preclude us from getting state funds," Smith said.

Currently, students with disabilities can't access all parts of the building. The renovation will include ramps and an elevator.

"When we're done we'll make sure all of the building will be accessible," Dixit said.

Parents and teachers were concerned that more problems would be found with Lansdowne when the renovation starts — that, and the possibility of a future expansion, could pile millions more onto the project's cost, they said. School officials acknowledged that costs could increase with the project, but not to the level the community was suggesting.

"Yes there are some changes, but it doesn't become $90 million or more," Dixit said.

In addition to current high school parents, the meeting drew parents from the middle and elementary schools that feed into Lansdowne.

"In 10 years my daughter will be 16 years old, which means she'll be a junior in this school right here," Lansdowne / Riverview Recreation & Parks Council President Donte White said.

White was concerned that the renovation would preclude them from a new building in the future.

"I'm very concerned," White said. "And in 10 years I'm going to be very very upset if we're back here having the same conversation."

Smith said that scenario is unlikely — the goal of the renovation is to boost the life of the building, built in 1963, beyond that. A new building after a decade after the renovation wouldn't make fiscal sense, he said.

Thursday Don Mohler, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's Chief of Staff, said a replacement building is not happening. The Lansdowne renovation is taking place along side three other high schools — four new buildings would be more than the county can afford without driving up taxes an unreasonable amount.

"There's no need to discuss a new school moving forward," Mohler said. "We're not going to do that."

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