Hebron tops fix-it list

Study of four oldest high schools finds Ellicott City facility needs most work

June 29, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

A highly anticipated facilities assessment of Howard County's four oldest high schools has determined that Mount Hebron is in most need of repair and capital funding. Mount Hebron has been at the center of a contentious debate over whether to renovate or replace the school.

Ken Roey, the school system's executive director of facilities and management, said he did not expect the school board to make an immediate decision about what plan to use at the Ellicott City school.

"The board will digest this study over the next couple of weeks and make a decision," Roey said. "We will not be waiting a year and a half to decide what to do with Mount Hebron."

Sandra H. French, a board member, confirmed yesterday that the board has no intention of rushing to a decision about Mount Hebron.

"The Hebron community itself asked us to have a facility report and allow the public to have time to digest," she said. "Our staff needs time to think about this and think it through. The board is not interested in voting on this quickly."

The assessment, completed by the Owings Mills-based Gilbert Architects, evaluated Mount Hebron, Atholton, Centennial and Hammond high schools. It was scheduled to be shared with board members at last night's meeting.

An assessment of all high schools and middle schools will be completed by March 2008, after which elementary and special-purpose schools will be assessed.

In March, the school board decided to delay action on a Mount Hebron renovation plan pending the completion of the study of the four schools.

At that time, the board was caught up in a confusing conflict over the direction of the school's construction plan.

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin favored a $49.8 million renovation plan that would include mechanical upgrades, full systemic renovations and an expansion of the school's art, athletic and administrative offices.

Many parents and most Mount Hebron staff members wanted a new school built. Others wanted plumbing, sewage and rodent problems addressed.

Some wanted the school system to investigate additional alternatives.

Because there were so many opinions about what to do, board members such as Chairman Diane Mikulis said they favored an independent study of the facility. That study came in the form of the 255-page, four-school assessment report.

The assessment evaluated the four high schools on maintenance issues based on the Association of Physical Plant Administrators' guidelines. The assessment also compared the schools to the system's standards for new schools such as Marriotts Ridge High, which opened in 2005.

The assessment found that Mount Hebron ranked worst of the four schools in overall condition, site, exterior, interiors, and fire-safety categories. It found that Mount Hebron will require the largest amount of total capital expenditures over the next 20 years.

"This is consistent with the visual observations and impressions of Mount Hebron being in the worst physical appearance," the assessment stated.

The assessment also said that a continuing visible and effective maintenance program is in effect at all four high schools.

Roey said the assessment has not affected Cousin's $49.8 million construction plan.

"It hasn't changed any recommendation yet," Roey said. "The recommendation from a few months ago stands. The staff recommendation that was last presented to the board ... that is the recommendation on the table. "

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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