The state has denied Harford County Public Schools’ initial request for approval to upgrade Havre de Grace High School and Youth’s Benefit Elementary School.
The notice came in a Nov. 13 letter to Superintendent Robert Tomback from Dr. David Lever, executive director of the Maryland Public School Construction Program. The letter cited unresolved “questions or issues” in excluding both capital projects from the first round of recommendations for state funding and planning approval for next year. The school system is planning an appeal.
For Havre de Grace High, Harford County Public Schools requested planning approval from the state to build a replacement school. The request was based on a recommendation by Superintendent Robert Tomback, although the school board has yet to decide whether Havre de Grace High will be upgraded via a replacement school or with renovations to the existing facilities. The school system’s request to the state can be amended depending on the board’s final decision, said Teri Kranefeld, HCPS manager of communications. Either way, planning approval is necessary for the project to be eligible for state funding.
To begin a replacement of Youth’s Benefit Elementary School, the school system requested state funding in the amount of $6.6 million for the fiscal year 2014, along with planning approval. A Youth’s Benefit replacement building has long been planned by the school board.
Neither school was recommended in the first round of state decisions on school capital projects for the fiscal year 2014. Writing on behalf of the Interagency Committee for School Construction (IAC), Dr. David Lever told
Superintendent Tomback that the staff of the Public School Construction Program determined that the two projects had “outstanding questions or issues that need to be resolved.” The letter also outlined the opportunities for appeal.
County Executive David Craig has spoken to Dr. Lever about the state’s concerns and believes that the projects can be approved, according to Aaron Tomarchio, Craig’s chief of staff. Craig has been the driving force behind the Havre de Grace High School project.
Responding via e-mail to questions from The Dagger, HCPS Chief of Administration Joe Licata said that the letter was typical of those received from Dr. Lever indicating the status of requested projects, and that the school system would address the questions raised by the state.
While not specified in the letter, Licata said the unresolved issues with Havre de Grace High and Youth’s Benefit Elementary were laid out at an October work session held with Lever and his staff. “The questions are typical of those normally answered and are related to enrollment verification, capacity questions, and other minor technical details related to the various projects,” Licata said.
Capacity questions were also raised at the November 5th school board meeting where the upgrade options for Havre de Grace High School were first presented to board members. Noting that the replacement option included a capacity expansion up to 1150 students, Board Member Bob Frisch questioned the need, considering the school’s current enrollment of fewer than 700 students and flat enrollment projections. Frisch said that Edgewood, Fallston and Joppatowne high schools also had excess capacity, and he wondered whether the state would pay for more at Havre de Grace or if Harford County would be expected to pick up the tab. At the time, Frisch asked for a future presentation on the cost of a Havre de Grace replacement school at current capacity levels.
In addition to Havre de Grace and Youth’s Benefit, some smaller capital projects requested by HCPS were also denied initial approval due to outstanding concerns. They were HVAC upgrades at three schools: Norrisville Elementary, Fallston High School and Joppatowne High; and a roof renovation at George D. Lisby Elementary School.
Among the capital projects recommended for state funding were HVAC improvements for Magnolia Middle School and North Harford Elementary; and energy efficient lighting upgrades at a number of schools. Projects recommended for state funding are subject to funding availability.
Licata said that the school system would likely appeal all of the requested projects that were not approved, at a hearing before the Interagency Committee, or IAC, set for Dec. 4th.
When asked to put the current status of the Havre de Grace and Youth’s Benefit projects into perspective, Licata responded:
“It is not unusual for projects to be held-up on this round. The IAC states that it only made recommendations for 49 percent of the proposed $250 million state capital budget. After the appeals on December 4, the IAC will recommend projects state wide that represent 75 percent of the $250 million, and leave the remaining 25 percent to the BPW [Board of Public Works] after that appeal.”
Below is the Nov. 13 letter from David Lever of the IAC to Superintendent Tomback: