Letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

March 11, 2007

In support of a new Mount Hebron High

(Editor's note: This is part of a letter sent to County Executive Ken Ulman and the County Council by Mount Hebron High School staff members concerning the proposed renovations at the Ellicott City school.)

The undersigned Mount Hebron High School (MHHS) staff members appeal to you to examine our concerns about the proposed renovation of MHHS.

In June 2006, the Howard County public school system (HCPSS) Facilities Planning and Management Department proposed a renovation plan for MHHS that would add several thousand square feet to the existing building. This addition would provide a fine-arts wing for music and dance, a physical education wing, and new administration space. This renovation plan was projected to cost approximately $19 million.

Unfortunately, this original renovation plan did not address several serious safety issues and other systemic problems at MHHS. The shortcomings of the original plan were recently discussed, and, in response to this, the HCPSS Facilities Planning and Management staff developed five possible options. Raymond H. Brown, HCPSS chief operating officer, favors option 2B.

The 2B option would be completed over a 3 1/2 -year period while the school continues operating "normally" in the midst of the renovation. The expectation is that students and teachers will continue to strive for higher standards of excellence, despite the disruption to the school environment.

The projected cost of the 2B plan is approximately $50 million. Option 2B neither results in MHHS meeting current educational specifications nor addresses the recent plumbing problems.

Option 4 proposes that a replacement school be built on the MHHS site while students remain in the old building. Once built, students would move into the new building. The old school would be torn down and replaced with playing fields. The replacement building would meet educational specifications.

We, the undersigned MHHS staff members, acknowledge the many problems with settling on a realistic and effective renovation plan for our school. However, $50 million is a large amount of money to spend on a building that would continue to have multiple problems.

The 2B option allocates approximately $30 million to the infrastructure, such as HVAC and electrical systems. A large portion of the remaining $19 million would be spent on improving the public face of the building such as the front entrance, administrative offices, the cafeteria and the auditorium.

Option 2B would not improve the teaching and learning academic classroom environment. Option 2B would do very little to improve hallways and circulation problems in the instructional area and would not alleviate safety concerns.

We believe that the 2B option is not the best use of taxpayers' money. While a new building is initially more costly, it is economically a better long-term investment since it will provide a building positioned for the future.

Additionally, the community would be very proud of this building. For these reasons, we are in favor of Option 4 (a replacement school).

Ninty-nine staff members at Mount Hebron signed this letter.

Hoping school board decides for quality

Thursday night, I attended a meeting of the Howard County Board of Education, and I could not have been more disappointed. This meeting had an aggressive agenda that included a Department of Education presentation on the budgetary constraints on the needs for renovation at Mount Hebron High School.

While the department presented slide after slide about why it cannot afford to do more at Mount Hebron, the board sat back and played "yes men" to the department. Only board member Sandra French asked some pointed questions, and she was practically vilified by her peers for doing so.

Once again, I feel that the community is forced to play the extremist advocates to get some lackadaisical elected officials to think creatively. As painted by the department and the board, the community is totally unreasonable for using the 1999 education specifications as the benchmark for a standard facility.

Why? What should the parents use? Why does the conversation then turn to how the teachers at Mount Hebron seem to be able to make the space work, programmatically? That sends the message that because Mount Hebron is a well-scoring school and the teachers are able to work in substandard conditions, the minimal should be done.

Everyone is in agreement that the teachers are fantastic at Mount Hebron. I'm confident that if you gave them a shack, two rubber bands and some chalk, they could "make it work." But, that does not mean that our expectations for an adequate facility should be a shack, does it?

Howard County public schools are consistently upheld as the target for a good school system. One of the main reasons for that is that the community is filled with highly educated, involved, and yes, affluent people.

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