Havre de Grace High School Upgrade Denied Again; State Authorities Cite “Substantial Excess of Capacity”

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.


  1. C. David Copenhaver says

    Does this improve the chances of replacing William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary with a new school. Hopefully this encourages Mr. Craig to make this project his number one priority during his final two years in office.

    • says

      It’s complicated, I think.

      It’s unlikely that HDG HS will lose it’s status as a priority anytime in the next two years, while Craig is in office. So it may be better for Paca if HDG gets underway as soon as possible to clear the way for schools further down the list.

      If HDG HS stalls, I suppose another project could take it’s place but it also may lead to a stalemate until the comprehensive analysis is complete. It’s to be done by a third party and may point to a different set of priorities. Which reminds me, I wonder what the progress is on that…stay tuned.

  2. CyrusEM says

    William Paca is behind HdGHS for school replacement so yes it mayhelp unless the HCPS pushes too hard on the HdGHS issue without cause. William Paca and Youths Benefit have been on the prioritylist too long and need to be replaced as soon as possible. Both schools have to deal with inadequate facilities, insufficient space, failing buildings, and have been pray to political fights for too long. Hopefully the Board’s recent moves will help get both school built soon! The kids and staff in both school deserve it. Joppatown HS has fully approved plans for the update but it not considered a replacement. Homestead Wakefield was considered at one point as part of the John Archer move but that plan is still under debate.

  3. says

    Thank you Dagger and Cindy Mumby for continuing to bring parents and stakeholders of HCPS the facts and details of decisions made by our public school system. Understanding the logic behind these decisions, is another story.

  4. tax payer says

    If the co exec says there is enough money for two new schools this year then why not build YBES and Wm Paca ES first? Each of these schools has over 1K students and HDG hs has less then 700 and projected to go well below 600 in a couple of years. The need at HDG hs is no greater then at these two schools and they were already on the approved replacement list. Then the co exec could have asked for a new hs in HDG and a renovation at JT hs next year. Of course this would have left Homestead Wakefield and John Archer out in the cold again. Remember that JT, HW and JA were also already on the approved construction list. But figuring out why the co exec wants a new HDG hs now should be a no brainer. Wanting to build a new hs in HDG that is well over the numbers of present and projected student population would be to follow the same flawed thinking that has left 500 empty seats at the new Edge hs. The state construction authorities know Har co has more then enough seats in our existing hs’s to meet our current and future needs and aren’t going to give the ok to creating even more excess seats. Thank goodness the state has recognized this reality even if the co exec will not. Hopefully the co council will stick to their initial refusal to fund HDG hs which will only saddle the tax payers with additional and unnecessary debt to build another under utilized hs. There is a simple solution to making better use of the almost 2K empty seats in our hs’s, it’s called redistricting.

    • Pisst oft axpayer says

      Why? pretty simple. Craig is using his position to benefit loyal constituents rather than a larger number of county citizens. And at the same time he is prone to wasteful capital spending, he is strangling the Public School System’s operating budget. As a taxpayer, I’m livid that county schools are not maintained to a higher standard that is simply not possible with the budgets the school system has.

  5. Nick says

    It’s pretty hard to justify spending 10’s of millions of dollars to build a bigger school when the existing school is well under capacity and enrollment is projected to continue to drop. I’ve never been in HdGHS so I have no idea what the conditions there actually are, but maybe they should look at trying to properly maintain existing buildings rather than building new ones that will have nearly double the capacity of the projected enrollment numbers.

    • tax payer says

      Keeping up with proper maintenance and needed renovation certainly is more cost effective then building new schools even if they don’t look as pretty.

  6. DiscoStu says

    While I have no idea why they made the capacity for the school so much larger than the current one, HdG is seeing continued residential development. Also, I believe it is the only school that has one street running through it, another street that has to be crossed to get to its athletic facilities and fields, and it the only one next to a chemical factory that sends trucks up and down these streets throughout the day.

    Again it’s been asked before: Why hasn’t anyone in the media taking tours of each of the schools and posted pictures of the conditions? I’ve been in each of the high schools, and of the older ones, HdG is BY FAR the worst.

    • tax payer says

      Of the hs’s yes but not in comparison to some of the es’s or some of the ms’s. If the politicians in HDG think that having a street go down the middle of the campus why haven’t they closed in permanently?

      • DiscoStu says

        Youths benefit was built in 1953 with renovations in 1968, 1973, 1995.
        WM Paca was built in 1956 with renovations in 1964, 1985, 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000
        Homestead/Wakefield was built in 1958 and renovated in 1996 and 1997
        Joppatowne High School was buit in 1972 and renovated in 1979, 1996, 1997, 2000, and 2008

        Havre de Grace high was built in 1955 and renovated once in 1985
        Havre de Grace middle was built in 1967 and never renovated!
        Havre de Grace Elem was built in 1950 and never renovated!

        Excuse me while I shed a tear for those other schools. Maybe redistricting should be enforced.

        Why has HdG middle never been renovated? Even Fallston has been renovated and it’s 26 years newer. You’re correct that needed renovation would have solved a lot of the problems, but at least those schools had renovations at all!

        • Fact Checker says

          The YBES Primary building was constructed in 1953, the Kindergarten “hut” was built in 1968 and the Intermediate building that contains open classrooms, contaminated water due to deteriorating plumbing and structural damage due to its poor design was built in 1973. The only actual renovation to the school was in 1995 with the addition to the Primary building for a school library and offices.

          Youth’s Benefit has been on the HCPS facilities replacement list since 1996. Design documents are 95% complete. The new school was scheduled to open in 2012, but was put on hold in 2009 due to local funding constraints. Youth’s Benefit enrolls almost 1000 five to ten year olds. The little ones don’t understand why water fountains are taped up or why some days they can’t flush the toilets or why ceiling tiles regularly fall down or why they wear their coats in class because there is no heat or why they hear 4 different teachers at the same time because of the open classrooms.
          There is a reason the YBES PTA has been so vocal over the last 2 years.
          It’s just not right and it’s time for a new Youth’s Benefit.

  7. Moe Ron says

    Hi Cindy,
    Can you tell me if this document is available on the hcps web page and where if so? Thanks.

  8. Kharn says

    I agree, if YBES is such a piece of junk, why did a billion people show up to protest their children being redistricted into RPES? Just because the students’ parents (and from what I remember, claims of grandparents as well) attended YBES doesn’t make it a great school.

  9. Correct Me If I am Wrong says

    Youth’s Benefit students were redistricted to Jarrettsville Elementary, not one student was redistricted to Red Pump, it was never an option. The HCPS solution was to send students north to fill empty seats in the northern part of the county.

    • ? says

      True, but the YBES community fought against moving any students to Jarrettsville ES. Very few were actually redistricted and the community was fine with leaving YBES overcrowded. I have a problem understanding why, if YBES is such bad shape including lead in the water, parents fought so hard to keep their children there.

    • CDEV says

      Additionally students where to be sent to Abingdon ES and Riverside as well. That was also fought!