Harford executive restores money for schools complex

May 20, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Harford County Executive James M. Harkins has reinstated money in his proposed budget for the start of construction of a middle and high school complex that school officials consider essential to easing crowded conditions in a half-dozen other schools.

The move came about a month after Harkins said he would hold off on plans for the Patterson Mill school complex out of fear of being unable to pay the debt service on bonds to finance the proposed $52 million project.

"Building Patterson Mill has been one of my top priorities," Harkins said yesterday, one day after sending the County Council an amendment to his budget to add $12 million for the school complex.

He said earlier uncertainty about revenue sources prompted him to take Patterson Mill out of the budget last month. "I'm delighted to get it back in," he said.

Harkins said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s recent decision to award the county $5 million for the start of work on a $51 million renovation of North Harford High School in the northern part of the county freed other county funds that could be used for the Patterson Mill project.

Jacqueline C. Haas, schools superintendent, expressed her delight at the sudden change of events.

She said the county is in a "deep hole" when it comes to providing seats for students and a delay of Patterson Mill would have made the situation worse.

"We have a serious crisis now," she added. "Without Patterson Mill we would have a serious, serious crisis. I'm glad the county executive has recognized the importance of this project to balance enrollment to allow for future increases" in enrollment.

She said the last middle school, Fallston Middle, opened in 1991. C. Milton Wright, the county's newest high school, opened 25 years ago.

Members of the County Council, including Dion F. Guthrie and Robert G. Cassilly, have argued for the county to address a situation that has some schools handling 25 percent to nearly 30 percent more students than their designed capacity.

The Patterson Mill complex will be located near Bel Air. It is being designed to handle 1,600 students.

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