Harford County Public School officials recommended plans Monday for a combined facility to replace Havre de Grace Middle School and Havre de Grace High School, including a new Information Technology Computer Science Magnet Program at the high school.
The latest available estimates put the cost at $72 million for construction and $87 million overall, including site work and demolition of existing structures. The 240,000 sq. ft. facility will be designed to serve 1,300 students with core areas sized to allow for future enrollment growth. Questioning the size, cost and the choice of magnet program, the school board failed to approve plans for the school Monday, and will hold more discussion before taking further action.
The plans revealed Monday at a board business meeting outlined the Educational Specifications for the new facility, which is a step required in the state’s process before the shape and layout of the building is drafted and presented in a Schematic Design.
In order to keep the project on track for state funding next year, the Schematic Design for Havre de Grace is due to the state by Sept. 1, according to comments made at the meeting by Joe Licata, HCPS chief of administration.
The school board plans to request state and local construction funding for the project beginning in its fiscal year 2016 budget. That budget may also reflect revised cost figures for the Havre de Grace project based on budget information expected from the state, school officials said Tuesday.
Referred to as “Ed Specs” for short, the plan for Havre de Grace was drafted by a committee including representatives from HCPS central office staff, Grimm + Parker Architects, the Maryland State Department of Education, Harford County Parks & Rec, and the City of Havre de Grace, plus local teachers, parents, and students.
While subject to amendment and approval by the school board, not to mention funding, the Ed Specs as proposed Monday include the following elements:
• The combined Havre de Grace Middle and High School will be built on the campus now shared by the separate middle and high school facilities, and located adjacent to the high school stadium.
• Students will remain in their existing schools while construction is ongoing. The ideal timeline presented Monday evening would be to complete the new building in 24 months, thereby opening under the best case scenario in 2017/2018.
• Once the new building is occupied, the existing facilities will be demolished and new playfields and parking areas will be constructed. However, Licata, said Monday evening that the future of the existing gymnasium/auditorium building, which is separate from the rest of the high school, is yet to be determined.
• The existing outdoor athletic complex will not be impacted.
• The joint school will have two principals; one each for middle and high school.
• There will be two separate gyms for middle and high school
• The school auditorium will hold 1,000 seats.
As proposed, the Ed Specs were written to serve 1,300 students in grades six through twelve, with a breakdown as follows:
Middle School: 550
High School: 750 – Including up to 150 students from outside the attendance area enrolled in the magnet program.
Combined enrollment for Havre de Grace Middle School and Havre de Grace High School was 1,190 students last year, according to Licata. The Ed Specs also indicate that core areas in the school will be sized for future growth to 1,600 students.
In response to questions about capacity Tuesday from The Dagger, Licata offered additional clarification regarding the state-rated capacity of the school versus the number of students the Ed Specs anticipated serving:
“The educational specifications are written to meet the needs of 1300 students between 550 middle school students, 600 high school students and 150 magnet program students. The spaces needed in order to deliver the curriculum when calculated according to the state formula resulted in a state rated capacity. As was stated in the meeting last night, there are inefficiencies created by some duplication of spaces, and the inefficiencies of a smaller school. The state assumes that every classroom will have an average of 25 students in it 85% of the time. A smaller school must offer most of the same programs offered at other comprehensive high schools, but will see smaller average class sizes in many cases.”
Information Technology Computer Science Magnet Program
The proposed magnet program in Havre de Grace would add to existing HCPS magnet programs, now located at Aberdeen High School (Science and Math Academy), Edgewood High School (International Baccalaureate) North Harford High School (Natural Resources and Agricultural Science), and Harford Technical High School, which is a magnet school. Not all high schools have magnet programs, which, in HCPS, are open to incoming freshmen countywide, with selective admissions determined through an application process. Transportation has been limited due to recent budget cuts.
The Ed Spec Committee chose a magnet program in Information Technology Computer Science for Havre de Grace based on the demand for workers with computer skills, and advice from state Career and Technology Education (CTE) officials, said Joe Schmitz, HCPS executive director of middle/high school instruction and performance. He also cited a 2012 Sage Policy Group study of Maryland employment opportunities.
Upon further questioning from Board members, Licata added that the choice also has support from the Harford County Economic Development Advisory Board, and it is consistent with the workforce development needs at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the county’s largest employer. Superintendent Barbara Canavan added that the choice also arose from interactions with the Chamber of Commerce, Harford Business Roundtable and other representatives of local business.
Board member Jim Thornton was among those with questions about the plan overall and the magnet program in particular. Emphasizing that he was not trying to “derail” the Havre de Grace project, he asked for a broader discussion about magnet program options and other issues, and pushed for a board work session to be scheduled before a vote. “… With a $90 million investment … it’s about trying to make sure we’re making the best decision with as much information and as informed as we should be around what the options are,” he said.
Board member Bob Frisch warned of fiscal constraints and the cost of staffing and transportation for magnet programs. He also cited flat enrollment projections, and schools such as Edgewood High School that have hundreds of empty seats, in questioning the capacity to be built in Havre de Grace.
With deadlines looming to keep the Havre de Grace project on track for state approvals, Board members voted 4 to 2 to approve the Ed Specs as presented (Frisch and Vice-President Rick Grambo were the two against.) However, with three of nine board members absent Monday, and at least five affirmative votes needed for passage, General Counsel Patrick Spicer said the measure did not pass. The three absent board members were Tom Fitzpatrick, Joe Hau and Art Kaff.
In closing, Board President Nancy Reynolds said that a work session would be scheduled in the near future to allow for another vote at the next board business meeting planned in August.
Below is the proposed Ed Spec for Havre de Grace Middle and High School: