Harford executive announces plans for new school complex

February 27, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Harford County Executive James M. Harkins announced plans yesterday for a new middle-high school complex in the crowded Bel Air area and strongly urged the school board to halt redistricting plans that are "threatening to tear apart existing neighborhoods."

Harkins issued an executive order calling for the formation of a commission to determine the best site and size for the school. The group has until Oct. 1 to issue a recommendation. Members will be announced by the end of the week.

The superintendent of schools and Board of Education members were stunned as they listened to Harkins' announcement.

"I'm shocked," Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas said after the news conference. "We were not invited or notified of this conference until the press notified us. I wish I had been given a heads-up, no doubt about it."

But she added, "I'm pleased about the new school."

Members of the school board could not be reached for comment last night.

Crowding is most acute at three schools: Forest Hill Elementary, which is 95 pupils over capacity; Southampton Middle, where 2,008 pupils are packed into a school built for 1,509 and where 15 portable classrooms have been added; and C. Milton Wright High, 216 students over capacity.

Harkins said he has put into his proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year $1.5 million for more portable classrooms and improvements at Southampton and C. Milton Wright. Plans for Forest Hill, which has no room for portables, were not discussed.

Harkins met this week with Yale Stenzler, the state school construction chief, who said yesterday that the project is "not a fait accompli" but that it is "very, very likely that it could be approved."

"Our conversation [Monday] was a recognition that a middle-high school is needed," Stenzler said. "Exactly what year it would be requested for state approval was not discussed."

No time frame for approval and construction was disclosed, but estimates for an opening date range from five to seven years - when crowding at the three schools would peak.

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