Harford County's school system has received state funding for the construction of the much-heralded Science and Mathematics Academy at Aberdeen High School. But that did little to take the sting out of the state's rejection of another major project - plans for a new middle and high school complex in the Bel Air area.
"It was like going to the dentist for a root canal, but learning that the dentist didn't have to drill as deep as he previously thought," Joseph Licata, assistant superintendent for school operations, said of the state funding approval last week for county school construction projects.
"The new middle and high school complex is a critical project, and having planning approval rejected is definitely going to hurt," he said.
"This will put us at least another year behind on a project that is critical to relieving the pressure of overcrowding" at five other schools in the Bel Air area, he said.
He said the school system was counting on the Bel Air project to ease crowding at C. Milton Wright High School, Bel Air High School, Bel Air Middle School, Southampton Middle School and Fallston Middle School.
Licata said that Fallston Middle School is operating at nearly 30 percent over capacity and that Southampton and C. Milton Wright "are at a point of being almost unmanageable."
Licata called the $958,000 in state funding for the science and math academy at Aberdeen High "fantastic."
"This is a great day for the Aberdeen community," he said. He called the academy "the crown jewels" of a $44 million construction of a new high school in Aberdeen.
In his announcement of school construction funding, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. included $529,000 for the start of a major renovation of North Harford High School.
Del. Barry Glassman, a Republican who serves as chairman of the county's legislative delegation, said the $529,000 was on top of $2 million released by state for the North Harford project in January.
"We received the $2 million," Glassman said, "and appealed to the Board of Public Works for the other portion because that is what the school board felt it needed to keep that project moving along."
North Harford project
The renovation of North Harford, near Pylesville, is expected to be the county's biggest project in terms of cost and scope, according to Kathleen Sanner, supervisor of planning and construction.
The $45 million project will result in "virtually a new building," she said, that will be 42 percent larger than the present structure.
It is scheduled to have a capacity of 1,600 students, up from 1,450.
Construction is slated to begin next spring and be completed in the summer of 2007.
School officials are excited because the first installment of construction money usually leads to the rest of the money coming in succeeding years, Licata said.
Eugene C. Chandler, a member of the Harford school board and a retired Army colonel, said the science and math academy at Aberdeen "will be a boon to the whole county. It will be a magnet school that will attract the best math and science students throughout the entire county."
"This will likely be a project that will be duplicated through the country," he said. "It will be a model for the rest of the country to look at." In pushing for state funding for the Aberdeen project, school officials have referred to these dollars as the last piece in the financial puzzle.
In March, the school system received $695,450 in federal funding that was to be used for the purchase of equipment for the science/math center.
The county had already set aside about $600,000 for the project.
The state portion of the expense was needed before construction could begin.
The academy will take up the third floor of the new high school.
Through its link with Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Army's ordnance research and development center, students and teachers at the academy will be working with the top military scientists and technicians in the region.
Glassman called the state's rejection of planning approval for the new Bel Air area middle and high school project "a disappointment that is tough to swallow."
He said he has met with County Council President Robert S. Wagner and they are seeking to set up a meeting in July of the council and the county's legislative delegation to determine if it is possible for the project to move forward.
"Maybe there is a way for the county to forward-fund the initial phase of the project," he said of a system in which the county would pay the state's 65 percent of the cost of a project in addition to its own 35 percent share.
Under this arrangement, the county would be reimbursed after state funding is approved.
"Maybe the county can go the bond market and borrow the money to move ahead," he said. "The trick is to have safeguards built into the system to protect the county."