Elementary school to be repaired

May 23, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Havre de Grace Elementary will get nearly $1 million worth of long-overdue renovations next year, two years earlier than the school system had planned.

The early renovation, the result of an agreement between the county administration and the school system, represents a victory for parents, teachers, school administrators and elected officials who had mounted a lobbying campaign.

"The letters we received, the comments from parents at public forums, we certainly had our attention focused on that school," Larry Klimovitz, the county administrator, told the County Council at a budget work session Monday.

Mr. Klimovitz said county officials failed to realize the extent of disrepair at the 42-year-old school until parents organized and began lobbying at public meetings, including a public meeting with County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

Council members and school board members also said that until recently, they had no idea the school had deteriorated so much.

Its many flaws include an electrical system so old it cannot handle air conditioners or fans, and students can't use the school's computers during hot weather because the heat could damage the computers. The school, which has never been renovated, lacks access for the disabled, , and the parking lot floods every time it rains because of poor drainage.

Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B, called the condition of Havre de Grace Elementary "mind-boggling."

"The school system and the board of education should have known about that school," she said. "I think it's very revealing that it took public forums for us to learn about this school."

Mr. Klimovitz said the county administration, after hearing about the school's problems, had planned to give it a new electrical system. But county officials decided they could afford an entire renovation mainly because of additional revenue from a new tax on real estate transfers, which takes effect July 1.

"I think it's very, very appropriate that a school like Havre de Grace Elementary, which is in such bad shape, should be the first one to benefit from the transfer tax," Mr. Klimovitz told the council.

What the money will be used for remains uncertain, but it probably will go toward the upgrade of major systems such as electricity, plumbing and heating.

The school is an indirect beneficiary of the transfer tax. Transfer tax money may be used only for school construction or site acquisition. But funds already earmarked for those projects, including $500,000 toward the construction of Country Walk Elementary in Bel Air, may now be shifted to renovations and other needs, Mr. Klimovitz said.

The county expects the transfer tax to raise about $3 million in fiscal 1994. The money will be split evenly between schools and the county's agricultural preservation program.

Mr. Klimovitz said the $1.5 million from the transfer tax for school construction and an additional $267,000 in county funds will expand the school system's capital budget to over $11 million for fiscal 1994.

In her original spending plan, sent to the council April 1, Mrs. Rehrmann had included about $9.3 million for school construction. Money from the transfer tax, to be levied after July 1, was not included then because the council did not approve the transfer tax until mid-April.

The council has until May 31 to approve a county budget.

In addition to the $500,000 for County Walk Elementary, the other $1 million from the transfer tax will be added to the $1 million already earmarked for acquisition of a site in Abingdon for a new middle school and high school. The middle school may be built as soon as 1997; the high school has no target opening date.

The Havre de Grace Area Organization of Parents for Education, known as HOPE, argues that the county must spend more to maintain its older schools before building new ones.

Pat White, a representative of the group, said she was overjoyed that Havre de Grace Elementary would be renovated next year.

Mrs. White, who has children in Havre de Grace Middle, said the 18-month-old group's work remains incomplete. "We are going to meet and decide what our next priorities are," she said.

She said other schools along U.S. Route 40 are talking about forming one large coalition to lobby the county and school system next year.

In addition to the Havre de Grace Elementary renovation, other projects have been added to the school system's capital budget for next year: the renovation of the science lab at Edgewood High and repairs to roofs at Joppatowne Elementary and Hickory Elementary in Bel Air.

The state has agreed to contribute $200,000 if the county contributes $100,000 to the science lab project, said Jim Jewell, county treasurer.

Another project included in the fiscal 1994 capital budget, construction of a second gym at C. Milton Wright, will be delayed until fiscal year 1995.

The county instead will spend about $300,000 in planning money for the gym and a 365-student classroom addition. Construction on both projects should begin in fiscal 1995.

The county had planned to build only the gym until it learned last month that the state Legislature had made available additional money for school construction.

Costs will be lower, and the county will get more money from the state, if both projects are built at the same time.

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