UPDATE: Harford County Council Delays Plans for Havre de Grace High School Replacement
Amending Harford County Executive David Craig’s proposal to prioritize a $60 million replacement for Havre de Grace High School, the Harford County Council voted on Tuesday, May 15 to delay the start of funding for the project until fiscal year 2016. The county executive’s plan called for funding of the multi-year project to begin in fiscal year 2014. Stay tuned to The Dagger for further updates.
Harford County Executive David R. Craig has prioritized a future $60 million replacement of Havre de Grace High School, a project that was not requested by the Harford County Board of Education, and reordered other long term capital priorities set by the school board, as part of his proposed county budget for next year. The long term plans are part of Craig’s fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, which is currently under review by the Harford County Council. The Council may amend, but must enact a county budget before June 1, 2012.
Under Craig’s plan for future school projects, Havre de Grace High School shares top priority with a replacement school for Youth’s Benefit Elementary in Fallston. Youth’s Benefit is currently in the number two spot on the school board’s priority list. Under Craig’s proposal, funding would begin for both schools in fiscal year 2014 and would be completed in 2016.
By contrast, the top priority of the Harford County Board of Education has been a relocation of the John Archer School and a related replacement school for Homestead Wakefield Elementary in Bel Air. Craig’s plan drops that dual project down to the number two slot, behind Havre de Grace and Youth’s Benefit. Funding for the John Archer School/Homestead Wakefield Elementary project is set to begin in fiscal year 2016 under Craig’s plan.
William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary in Abingdon remains the third priority for modernization in the long term plans of both the county executive and the school board. Deteriorating conditions at Paca and Youth’s Benefit have been the subject of public comments made to the Harford County Board of Education in recent weeks.
None of the funding for the above projects is being requested for fiscal year 2013, however, long term projects spanning multiple years are included in a section of the county budget known as the “Six Year Capital Improvement Program” (CIP) and approved in the yearly budget process. Although subject to revision in later years, the CIP sets county budget priorities in future years, when and if funding becomes available.
No funding for major school replacement projects is requested in fiscal year 2013 by either the school board or the county executive, in part because funding for such projects isn’t expected to be available from either the county or the state.
So far, Harford County Public Schools isn’t picking a fight with Craig over their mismatched priorities for future projects. Questions posed to School Board President Leonard Wheeler and Superintendent Robert Tomback about potential changes to the school board’s own long term Capital Improvement Program garnered the following email from Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for HCPS.
“Currently, the Board CIP priorities remain as printed in the FY 13 proposed budget document, the Board won’t begin deliberations on the FY14 CIP budget until June 2012. At this point, it would be premature to speculate on any potential reconciliations or decisions by the Board regarding the CIP.”
Adding a twist to those deliberations is a planned $1.25 million study of all county facilities that will result in a Countywide Facilities Master Plan. Cornell Brown, HCPS assistant superintendent for operations, has estimated that the study will take at least a year and a half to complete. The plan will be used by county government and related agencies such as schools and libraries, to prioritize future spending on infrastructure.
At a May 7 Board business meeting, Brown noted that the school board had put changes to their own long term capital priorities on hold, pending the results of the countywide study.
At the same meeting, School Board Member Bob Frisch representing Edgewood/Joppatowne, expressed concern about Craig’s proposal for Havre de Grace before the countywide study is completed. “The county executive is, in essence, setting the agenda for us,” Frisch said.
Craig told The Dagger that the study will not affect his priorities for Havre de Grace, Youth’s Benefit, John Archer/Homestead Wakefield or William Paca/Old Post Road.
Shifting school board priorities also isn’t new, Craig said, citing as examples Edgewood and Bel Air high schools, which he said he moved up on the school board’s priority list, along with an expansion of Aberdeen High School.
The next high school up for major capital improvement on the school board’s long term priority list is Joppatowne, with the initial planning phase scheduled for fiscal year 2018 and occupancy set for fiscal year 2021.
Justifying the Havre de Grace project, Craig said that it is the oldest high school in Harford County and the only one never scheduled for renovation.
While Craig can’t run for re-election in 2014 due to term limits, he is raising money for a 2014 campaign, rumored to be for a bid for governor. Craig is also a native of Havre de Grace and once served as mayor of the city.
If the Harford County Council approves Craig’s capital plan for schools, funding for future projects beginning in fiscal 2014 is far from assured. And while the school board has shifted its own long term capital budget priorities in the past, most recently in June 2011, school board approval will still be needed before any of the proposed projects can become a reality.