County school plans in works

Construction projects worth $140 million set to start without promise of state aid

March 18, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Harford County will soon embark on $140 million in school construction projects, which include a new high school and two new elementaries, without the promise of reimbursement from the state.

"The state has not given us planning approval or construction funding for any of these projects, but everything is under appeal," said Kathleen Sanner, director of planning and construction for county schools.

Severe crowding, aging buildings and long overdue renovations prompted the school board to move ahead with the work.

School board members unanimously approved designs last week for the $82 million Edgewood High School and the $26 million Deerfield Elementary School, both of which would replace existing buildings. The 100-acre site along Willoughby Beach Road affords space to build the two schools while classes continue in the existing buildings.

The county will break ground in the spring of next year on both schools, and work will proceed simultaneously. Deerfield, which will be similar in design to the county's 600-seat model for elementaries, will include additional kindergarten and prekindergarten classrooms.

Enrollment at both schools is expected to grow as the nationwide military base realignment, known as BRAC, adds jobs at Aberdeen Proving Ground and brings as many as 30,000 more residents to the county.

"This is a larger elementary for us, but it is intended to absorb some of the growth from BRAC," Sanner said. "The high school is under capacity now, but we are expanding for the coming growth."

The 262,000-square-foot high school building with a triple gymnasium, an 800-seat auditorium and classrooms for 1,600 students. Edgewood has about 1,400 students this year.

Once the buildings open for the 2010 school year, the old structures will be razed to make room for more athletic fields, additional parking and more bus loops.

Edgewood Middle School, on same site with Deerfield Elementary, and Edgewood High will not be replaced.

The cluster of three schools offers an opportunity for the county to open its first day care for staffers on the campus. A day-care center will be part of the construction project and will be leased to a licensed provider. Slots will be limited to children of teachers on the campus.

"We hope to provide convenient, safe day care with a full component of services for staff at all three schools," Sanner said. "Hopefully, this will be an incentive to retain staff."

The $26 million Vale Road Elementary, which will be built on a 23-acre site north of Bel Air, will help ease school crowding in the county seat. Construction will begin in early 2009 on the building, which will have three wings off a main corridor and a conference room for volunteers near the 6,000-square-foot gym that will be available for county recreation programs. Opening is projected for the fall of 2010 but could be delayed if the county finds it has to build a sewage treatment plant on the site.

Because of the site's narrow road frontage, engineers have designed a roundabout at its entrance.

"That makes sense given how cars speed on that road," said Partick L. Hess, a school board member.

Two smaller projects will get under way this summer after classes end. Both should be completed by spring of next year.

At Joppatowne High, plans call for a $3.3 million auxiliary gym with a brick exterior that matches the 1970s building. The second gym will include a new weight room and lavatories, expanded locker rooms with indoor and outdoor equipment storage, offices and an elevator so that the facility is fully accessible.

"This gym will put Joppatowne on a par with other high schools in the county," Sanner said.

At the same time, the county will break ground on a $1.7 million gym at the back of Prospect Mill Elementary, a Bel Air-area school that is coping with severe crowding. The gym will help relieve the crunch in what has been a combined gym and cafeteria, and it will allow space for offices.

"The gym will be really helpful to this school, and there will be space enough in the cafeteria to accommodate the lunch shift pattern," said Ruth R. Rich, a school board member. "But this is only the beginning of improvements at this school. We have to do something else and we will."

The work will entail moving five portable classrooms to the far side of the school building, where another five are now, and building additional sidewalks.

"Even if enrollment would drop, this addition will enhance the school overall," Sanner said. "Our whole purpose is to provide relief to capacity issues."

Approved school construction

Edgewood High -- New school, construction to start spring 2008, with opening August 2010. Cost: $82 million.

Deerfield Elementary -- New school, construction to start spring 2008, with opening August 2010. Cost: $26 million.

Vale Road Elementary -- New school, construction to start spring 2009, with opening August 2010. Cost: $26 million.

Joppatowne High -- Gymnasium, construction to start this summer, completed by spring 2008. Cost: $3.3 million.

Prospect Mill Elementary --Gymnasium, construction to start this summer, completed by spring 2008. Cost: $1.7 million.

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