UPDATE: As proposed by Harford County Executive David Craig, the feasability study for the renovation or replacement of Havre de Grace High School and upgrades to athletic field facilities at the school were approved in the county budget bill passed unanimously by the Harford County Council on May 17 for the fiscal year 2012.
Also, among a series of amendments to the county budget said to be requested by the Harford County Board of Education, the County Council voted 6 to 1 to delay for one year the start of a systemic upgrade to the HVAC system at Magnolia Middle School in Edgewood. Council President Billy Boniface said that the school board chose to delay the Magnolia MS upgrade because state funding was not provided in FY12 to match a local appropriation on the project, which is expected to cost a total of $9.8 million over two years. Representing Edgewood, Councilman Dion Guthrie was the only ‘no’ vote on the Magnolia MS amendment.
A capital budget battle over proposed improvements for Havre de Grace High School has the Harford County Board of Education at odds with County Executive David R. Craig, in a contest that will be settled later this month when the Harford County Council votes to approve the county budget for fiscal year 2012. The budget conflict between the school board and Craig hasn’t been hashed out in public. But each side has clearly staked out a position, in capital budget proposals made public earlier this year.
At issue are two projects for Havre de Grace High School – $1 million to upgrade the facilities on the school’s new athletic fields and $250,000 for a feasibility study to kick-start a complete renovation or replacement of the school. Both projects were initiated by County Executive Craig and are included in his budget proposal, released April 1st.
The school board’s FY12 budget request includes neither project; nor is either project currently in the school system’s capital improvement program.
The question is whether or not the Harford County Council will approve the Havre de Grace projects as proposed by the county executive; and if approved, what the projects might displace in the school board’s FY12 budget.
In the longer term, a modernization for Havre de Grace High would also have to be added to the school board’s priority list for major capital projects – a list that is currently topped by a modernization/expansion for Homestead Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air and a related plan to move the John Archer School for special education to the campus of Bel Air Middle School. Scope studies are complete for both projects, which are pending local planning approval from the state. Next on the schools’ priority list are replacements for Youth’s Benefit and William Paca/Old Post Road elementary schools.
The insertion of a new capital project into the school board’s budget by the county executive is not unprecedented, according to Bob Thomas, a former Harford County Board of Education president and now a spokesman for County Executive Craig. Asked the reason why Craig, who is a former mayor of Havre de Grace, included the Havre de Grace HS projects in his budget proposal, Thomas wrote in an email to The Dagger:
“The County Executive put the money in the Capital Budget to complete the work at the James R. Harris Stadium. Specifically, the County Executive announced last September when the new field at the James R. Harris stadium was officially opened and dedicated, that he would be putting money into the FY 12 Capital Budget to complete the work in the stadium to bring it up to par with other recently renovated fields/stadiums throughout the county. This includes concession stand, restroom room facility, bleachers, etc. That is the background on that project. It is simply a matter of equity or parity of the field and facilities with schools in other areas of the county.
With respect to the $250,000 scope study for HDG High School, this too is a matter of equity. HDG High School is the last of the “old” high schools to be renovated or modernized. The scope study is also a part of a larger Master Plan initiative known as the Lilly Run Improvement Project. The field project and scope study together are part of this Project.”
Further support for a modernization at the school came earlier in the year, in the form of a resolution passed by the Havre de Grace City Council.
While the Havre de Grace High School projects are clearly a priority for County Executive Craig, his capital budget proposal doesn’t include any new county money for school projects, and instead uses anticipated state funds – funds that partially reimburse the county for forward funding new schools for Deerfield Elementary and Edgewood High – to pay for the projects at Havre de Grace HS and other items that were requested by the school board. The wrinkle is that the state’s share of forward funded projects doesn’t go back to the county government that footed the bill; it goes directly to the school board.
Anticipating a $14.8 million state reimbursement for Deerfield and Edgewood, and following the release of the county executive’s budget, the Harford County Board of Education made amendments to their own FY12 budget on April 11. The amendments allocated the $14.8 million among existing projects, but did not include the Havre de Grace projects proposed by Craig.
Questions about the school system’s plans for Havre de Grace HS, posed by The Dagger to Harford Schools Superintendent Robert Tomback and Board President Mark Wolkow, garnered the following response late Friday, in an email from Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for HCPS:
“The Superintendent and the Board of Education will continue to work with the County Executive and County Council to engage in a process that will result in an approved CIP [Capital Improvement Program] budget that meets the educational needs of all students in Harford County.”
Now, with dueling budget proposals on the table and the May 31 deadline for approval of the county budget looming, the next move belongs to the members of the Harford County Council.