We would like to respond to the letter from Ernie Bailey of the Lansdowne Improvement Association regarding the proposed renovation of Lansdowne High School ("Bringing an aging building back to life," March 11). While we appreciate his concerns, we feel that we need to provide the actual facts supporting our campaign to replace Lansdowne High School.
First of all, Mr. Bailey is correct, our aging LHS is 53 years old and, according to Baltimore County Public Schools, that is just seven years from the end of the building's life. We also agree with Mr. Bailey that students can receive a great education if they put their minds to it, especially with the high quality teachers we have at Lansdowne. However, the students and the teachers are not the problem. We also agree that the schools are the center of the community. However, that is where our agreement with Mr. Bailey's letter ends. It is because the schools are so very important for the community that we should be concentrating on replacing an obsolete, unhealthy and unsafe building that will be at the end of its life before or during the proposed renovations costing more than $50 million.
Those of us backing the movement, "Lansdowne Needs a New High School," are well aware that this renovation is more than just adding air conditioning. The renovation has to include extensive structural work since the current building's roof will not support the new equipment. We also know there are many items on the proposed renovation list and we have also been assured that we will be very happy with the renovation. However, we have done our homework and after reading the Assessment and Feasibility Study, Limited Renovation, Project Assessment (which was republished on the Baltimore County Public School web site on Feb. 25 after we pointed out serious errors in the original study), it is obvious that many of the problems at the school are not addressed in the study and those that are have been assigned proposed renovations that are expensive and limited or that do not address the underlying causes of the damages being repaired. We have provided testimony, pictures and documents written by our members to the school system, political leaders and on our Facebook page regarding the shortfalls of the study.
For example, school system officials admit that some underlying causes are not totally addressed. As the Feasibility Study actually states, "That said, further investigative work, analysis, and possible geotechnical study would be needed in order to confirm this opinion and should be done if BCPSS is concerned about the foundation in this part of the school."
Further, the study points out, "It is believed that the underpinning corrected most, if not all of the underlying issues but further investigation and analysis would be required to confirm this opinion."
Without the necessary investigative work, how can they correctly address the settlement issues? Fixing a cracked floor or wall is like pouring the money into an old mining pit — which is exactly what the school building was partially built on. Nowhere in the study is the history of the ground or the stability of the ground mentioned. Yet the location of the building and the grounds under and around it are key factors to the settlement, water problems, erosion — just to name a few — that are causing significant damage to the building. A good structural engineer would look at all factors involved, not just patch the cracks. A hydrogeologist would evaluate the ground water problems in relation to the poor quality soil and make recommendations. There is no evidence that either of these professionals were consulted in this study.
We are also aware of the estimated cost of a new building and have in our possession a written statement of that projected cost of $80 million. Another number that Mr. Bailey does not have correct is the current projected cost of the renovations which passed $42 million and is now topping $50 million. And these numbers for renovation only cover the "limited" renovation planned for Lansdowne, not the complete renovation or replacement it needs. So using the correct numbers, the cost of renovations is rapidly approaching the cost of a new building.
We also strongly disagree with Mr. Bailey on the enrollment capacity. The capacity for students will be adversely affected with this renovation. Two classrooms will be removed to renovate the health suite and the current classroom size (which is under the standard set by the school system) will remain the same. There are 30-to-32 seats in the Lansdowne classrooms and the average class size, according to teachers, is 35. How is this an underenrollment situation? The projections show our enrollment increasing before the renovations are completed. Mr. Bailey encourages us to review the feasibility study. We did and we did it line by line. After the first set of reviews by a team that included experts in several fields, we presented a list of errors to BCPS. The report was removed from the system's website, revised and reposted last month. There are still some errors, but we are happy with the response of BCPS on this issue. We are continually referring to the study and verifying any information we are given.
What Mr. Bailey does not say in his letter is the same missing component of the study. What about the mold, asbestos, flooding, non-working plumbing and brown water? This building is making children sick, according to several parents who have commented on the conditions. Yet none of the environmental hazards are mentioned.
We also strongly disagree with Mr. Bailey's comments on cost effectiveness of a new building vs renovation. He weighs the costs of construction against enrollment. The construction costs of a new building need to be compared to the renovation costs in the feasibility study. When doing this comparison, all factors would be compared including energy, environmental and safety factors which were not included in the feasibility study. The current feasibility study cannot be compared to a new building as it stands. All items needed to bring Lansdowne into the 21st century need to be included. At that point, the comparison and the cost benefit analysis can be done. We are confident that it will be quite obvious what the best use of taxpayer dollars would be. The community must make this happen in order to have a 21st century learning environment for our children that is safe, healthy and efficient. We should not accept something that is not in our children's best interest — which is what Mr. Bailey wants us to do.
We would like to strongly encourage Mr. Bailey to become engaged in ensuring that school system reevaluates the building more thoroughly, does a thorough cost-benefit analysis and then exercises efficient budgeting and procurement processes to build a new Lansdowne High School. In the future, we agree with Mr. Bailey that the new Lansdowne High School should be maintained properly so we never have to see it in this condition again.
We are also grateful that our representatives are listening to us as we move forward in our pursuit of a new high school building. We look forward to improved communication with our political leadership in the future which will help us achieve what is best for our children and our community.
Pamela Boyer, Lansdowne
The writer is president of the Lansdowne High School PTSA.