Deteriorating building conditions in Harford County’s older public schools were the subject of evocative comments by members of the public and a photo presentation by the president of the teacher’s union at a March 12 meeting of the Harford County Board of Education.
Laura Runyeon, president of the Youth’s Benefit Elementary School PTA, cited a host of facilities failures at the two-building school located in Fallston:
“Our primary building has asbestos in the ceiling and floor tiles, we cannot drink the water in our intermediate building and the water fountains have either been taped up or removed entirely. Our boilers fail to adequately heat the water in the cafeterias so our students are periodically required to use foam trays and our cafeteria workers have to wash the utensils multiple times in bleach water. We have a failing septic, leaking roofs, a significant lack of classroom space, a significant lack of space for assembly and teacher planning, an inability to increase technology due to a lack of electrical capacity and a lack of space in classrooms for computers or a computer lab. The children and teachers in our intermediate building are forced to try to perform and achieve in open classrooms; an architectural design for classroom space that has long been proven ill-conceived.”
According to a school profile published on the HCPS Web site, the facilities at Youth’s Benefit opened in 1953, with upgrades or renovations occurring in 1968, 1973 and 1995.
Air conditioning is also in the works for the Youth’s Benefit primary building, but a lack of funding has put a planned replacement of both buildings on hold, along with other major school improvement projects county wide. Such projects are paid for by a combination of state and county funds.
Chris Scholz, a teacher at Havre de Grace High School, cited problems in his school including a leaky ceiling, a bathroom stall door that has been missing for six months and a bathroom window that, Scholz said, had been broken for a year and was being held together with duct tape.
A new roof for Havre de Grace High is in Harford County Public Schools’ capital budget request for fiscal 2013. According to the published school profile, the facilities opened in 1955, with a renovation and the addition of a multipurpose room occurring in 1983.
At Prospect Mill Elementary School in Bel Air, the winter temperature in one teacher’s classroom averaged in the mid to low 50s, and mold in the building caused her to suffer from asthma and allergies resulting in missed time from work, according to a statement from the teacher read by union representative Seleste Harris. According to the statement, the teacher has since transferred from the school for health reasons.
Conditions at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School in Abingdon prompted comments from several speakers who advocated for improvements to the facilities. Stephanie Snead told school board members that she was a volunteer at William Paca/Old Post Road but didn’t want to use the “really nasty” bathrooms while she was there. She also cited a lack of hot water, leaks in the roof and black mold spores at the school.
Holding back tears, Dawn Johnson said that she was representing “the children who have no voice.” Johnson, who didn’t identify her relationship to William Paca/Old Post Road, said that students there deserved a building that was comparable to others in the county. Children who attend the school had little food and lived in neighborhoods where they had seen shootings and stabbings, Johnson said. She asked board members, “Can you imagine what that must be like as a child?” Johnson pleaded several times with school board members, “Won’t you please be their hero?” She said that the school was irreparable and had too many problems to list. Addressing Superintendent Robert Tomback, she asked, “Won’t you please be the superintendent who says, ‘I’ve had enough. I care.’”
According to a profile of William Paca/Old Post Road published on the HCPS Web site, the facilities opened in 1956 with renovations or additions occurring in 1964, 1985, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000.
Randy Cerveny, president of the Harford County Education Association, said that deteriorating building conditions in Harford County Public Schools could easily be addressed if the School Board had the money, but, he said, “your hands, in many cases, are tied.”
Cerveny noted that the total square footage of school buildings had expanded in recent years with new construction and modernizations, but he said that the overall size of the custodial staff had not changed. School board members set priorities and avoided cutting staff in recent years, Cerveny said, but, “the lack of funding by the county has unintended consequences to the buildings and the students.”
Cerveny gave school board members a series of photos taken at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary showing stains and mold on ceiling tiles in several classrooms, dirty air vents, and rusty sinks, shelves and desks. One photo showed a door secured with a bar; another showed what Cerveny said was tar melting from the roof of the Paca building into the school through a classroom ceiling.
Noting that a planned installation of air conditioning would rectify some problems, Cerveny said that mold and mildew, which he said were linked in a national study to symptoms such as wheezing and headaches, must be properly removed.
School Board President Leonard Wheeler asked Cerveny who had taken the photos, which were not shown to the public at the meeting. Cerveny deflected, saying they were taken by “some of my friends”, and added that the conditions were identical in county schools of the same age.
Wheeler didn’t press the point on the photos, but instead asked Superintendent Tomback to have his staff review the presentation and report back as soon as possible, “to see where we agree” and what actions need to be taken. Speaking to Cerveny about his concerns, Wheeler said, “those concerns, once they are confirmed, we share them.”
Below is a selection from the Power Point presentation on William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School presented by Cerveny to the Harford County Board of Education on March 12, 2012. Please note that the William Paca building houses grades 3, 4 and 5. The Old Post Road building houses Pre-K through second grade.