Poorly funded and maintained public schools are the biggest obstacleto Aberdeen's growth, say the preliminary findings of a comprehensive plan for the city.
"Businesses are interested in locating here, but the executives are not because they don't want to send their kidsthrough the Aberdeen school system," said Patrick B. Ford, who is working on the Aberdeen Comprehensive Plan, scheduled for a final draftthis fall.
Ford is planning director for Whitney, Bailey, Cox & Magnani, a land development and consulting engineering firm in Timonium that was hired to write the plan. The plan will be the city's first since 1965.
In the preliminary findings for the plan, the city, with a pro-growth policy, could become a magnet for companies seeking to relocatein Harford. "The county is increasingly seeking to slow growth so Aberdeen, ready to welcome business with open arms, is sure to benefit," Ford said.
But to entice new businesses, Aberdeen and the countyschool system must improve its four public schools -- one high, one middle and two elementary -- says the study.
"The schools are unbelievable. There are schools which have maintainance calls they put inyears ago to fix leaking roofs; some classrooms contain maps dating from the '60s," said Ford, quoting from a summary of the findings of one community workshop. The workshop included students, teachers, parents and local business owners.
Other county schools, he said, areperceived by residents of Aberdeen as being much better off, with newer computers and better lighting for athletic fields.
One of the suggestions to improve the four schools is to get parents involved with them, Ford said.
He said one reason more affluent schools have better equipment and buildings is because there are many one-income families with a stay-at-home parent that has time to devote to school issues.
"These parents have the time to get angry and call their neighbors and knock on doors and develop a plan. The parents in Aberdeen want to do that but most don't have the time or resources because both parents work," Ford said.
Simon R. Ruderman, director of planning and community development for Aberdeen, said the city requested the comprehensive plan because it wants to control where growth should occur and determine ways to encourage job growth in the city.
The comprehensive plan will help city administrators target areas whereAberdeen can economically expand public services, such as water and sewer lines.
Ford said community workshops organized to help the consultant with the plan revealed several goals city residents want the town to achieve.
Residents, for example, want to maintain Aberdeen's small-town feel but at the same time want to attract new, compatible business and industry to create jobs for city residents, Ford said.
"Over and over again what people told us was that their kids were growing up and moving away because there were no jobs," said Ford.
Aberdeen Proving Ground, adjacent to Aberdeen, is the city's major employer, but residents and students in Aberdeen schools complained there were not enough white-collar and highly skilled technical jobs at the base to keep them in the city, said Ford.
According to the findings in the preliminary comprehensive plan, about 30 percent ofAberdeen's work force works at the military installation; about 14 percent work in Aberdeen; 12 percent in Havre de Grace; and about 10 percent in Baltimore. The other 40 percent work in other parts of the county and region.
One of the plan's recommendations is that Aberdeen annex nearby land within a 1-mile radius of the city.
Ford said the reason for that recommendation is that there is very limited room within the city for further growth.
The consultant is preparinga list of possible sites for annexation.
Aberdeen consists of about 6 square miles. The annexation would probably let it grow by about50 percent, Ruderman said.
The annexed land would be used for a variety of purposes, including mixed-use residential and industrial projects, Ruderman said.
Ruderman said residents frequently complainabout the lack of housing choices.