The likelihood of a name change for the Harford County Public Schools Administration Building has many community leaders pushing for a designation that would honor the former superintendent who fought to see school offices headquartered under one roof in downtown Bel Air.
School administrators settled into the $11 million, four-story structure on Hickory Avenue with its generic name in January last year, 17 years after Alfonso A. Roberty retired as superintendent. After intense lobbying, Board of Education members decided to take suggestions for a more distinctive name during a 60-day review period that started late last month.
"We are definitely looking at a name change and have gotten many suggestions," said Mark M. Wolkow, board president. "All of them so far are for Dr. Roberty."
Roberty oversaw the construction of a dozen new schools during his 18 years as superintendent of Harford public schools, but, despite persistent efforts, could not persuade officials to fund an administration building.
"We worked together and warred together," said Habern Freeman, former county executive. "He would ask about a new building all the time. He was right, too, because it was hard for the board to function, when it was spread out all over the place."
Roberty envisioned an administration building that would consolidate the dozen offices scattered throughout the county seat, many of them in an aging, ill-suited former schoolhouse. That finally happened, but long after Freeman left the government and Roberty retired.
Former colleagues are pushing for a building that would honor Roberty, who devoted 37 years to public education in Harford.
"There is no more appropriate name than his for that building," Freeman said. "If I could, I would have a sign company put his name up about 40 feet high."
School board members established the waiting period to review arguments for renaming the administration building. Wolkow is reserving comment, until the board votes on the issue, probably in early July.
Roberty, 84 and retired since 1988, has remained detached from the renaming campaign, which has included a barrage of letters from supporters and a presentation to the board. He is not averse to the honor, he said.
"They asked me if I would object to the idea," he said. "Who would be that stupid?"
Harford schools are traditionally named for a nearby location or function and not for living people. Officials have made a few exceptions, such as the school named for William S. James, a state treasurer and longtime legislator, while he was alive. His daughter Mary-Dulany James is among those lobbying for the A.A. Roberty Building.
"While people such as my father have been honored by having a school or building named after them, there is no such like distinction for Dr. Roberty," James wrote to the board.
She referred to Roberty, who worked closely with her father, as "one of the founding fathers of the modernization of the system" who, as superintendent, made a lasting imprint on the county.
The idea also has won the support of the County Council, former education officials and County Executive David R. Craig, who worked for Roberty when he was a teacher. When Craig was hired as a teacher at Edgewood Junior High School in 1971, Roberty had started his push for a new administration building, Craig said.
"No one was a stronger advocate for the children of Harford County," Craig wrote in a letter to the school board. "No one was more attuned to using wisely the public funds dedicated to schools. And no one pushed more strongly for adequate facilities."
Roberty's career began with a job teaching science at Bel Air High School in 1951. He was named assistant superintendent in 1962 and was appointed superintendent eight years later.
"I can remember when he would ask me to kick some tires with him," Freeman said. "That meant we would visit schools, talk to teachers and knock around with kids.
"This building is something he really fought for," he said. "It is such a mundane request for an absolutely incredible guy."