Citing concerns about “substantial excess of capacity” in Havre de Grace schools, state authorities have again denied Harford County Public Schools’ request for local planning approval to upgrade Havre de Grace High. Local planning approval is required for the project to be eligible for state funding in future years.
The latest denial came in a letter outlining the status of capital improvement requests for next year, which was sent to Superintendent Robert Tomback from the Interagency Committee on School Construction following an appeal hearing in early December. The school system is planning another appeal later this month at the final hearing for projects requested for the fiscal year 2014.
Superintendent Tomback has recommended a $71 million replacement building for Havre de Grace High that would increase the school’s capacity from the current 850 students up to 1148. Current enrollment at the school is under 700 students and is projected to drop below 600 students by 2015.
Citing low enrollment and other factors, the school board has twice delayed a vote on Tomback’s recommendation, requesting additional options to consider, including a combined middle and high school. The request to the state for Havre de Grace High is therefore a “placeholder” for some form of upgrade until the exact scope is determined, said Joe Licata, HCPS chief of administration.
The indefinite “placeholder” complicates the request for state approval of Havre de Grace High, which the school board made a priority after intensive lobbying by County Executive David Craig. Craig has long supported the replacement option recommended by Tomback, although he said last month that classroom space in the new building could be cut back to save money. Craig also said that common areas, such as the cafeteria and gymnasium, should be built for 1100 students to allow for future growth.
In addition to state funding, Craig pledged to recommend county funding for a Havre de Grace High replacement in his fiscal year 2014 budget. However, when asked whether Craig planned to proceed without local planning approval from the state, Bob Thomas, a spokesman for Craig, said last week that it was too soon to say what items would be in or out of Craig’s budget, which Thomas said would be made public in March. County funding for projects recommended by Craig must be approved by the County Council.
At the state level, Licata said that the Havre de Grace upgrade will be appealed to the Board of Public Works on January 23rd, on the grounds that it is warranted by the age and condition of the school.
However, the committee that recommends state funding for public school construction remains focused on enrollment justification for the project. Outlining the position of the Interagency Committee on School Construction, Dr. David Lever, executive director of the Maryland Public School Construction Program, wrote in a January 3rd email to The Dagger:
“The correct statement on Havre de Grace High School is that we are waiting to receive enrollment justification for the project from the school district, since there is a substantial excess of capacity in the HGHS cluster of schools. Once we receive an explanation of the enrollment situation, we will consider whether the project is eligible for State approval and whether a recommendation should be made for this year. Pending receipt of the enrollment information, no decisions will be made on eligibility or recommendation for approval.”
Youth’s Benefit Replacement Recommended; Joppatowne Upgrades Denied, Appeal Pending
A replacement school for Youth’s Benefit Elementary in Fallston has been approved by the state for local planning, paving the way for state funding in future years. The school board originally requested construction funding to begin in fiscal year 2014, but Superintendent Tomback withdrew that request, sparking an outcry from the PTA and parents at the school.
Licata said that the funding request was withdrawn because final bid documents will not be ready in time for construction to begin in fiscal 2014. A request for construction funding is planned for the following year, and the delay will not affect the project timeline, Licata said.
Systemic upgrades to Joppatowne High School in the amount of $6,273,000 were denied approval due to “outstanding concerns or questions”, according to the state’s system for classifying requested projects. The Joppatowne decision will be appealed along with Havre de Grace High and several smaller requests for a number of schools. A complete list of projects to be appealed at the January 23rd Board of Public Works hearing appears below. Licata said that the outcomes of the appeals will be not be known until sometime near the close of the legislative session, which ends in April.