Schools are playing catch-up, Craig says

May 04, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

With nearly half of Harford's proposed 2009 capital budget devoted to school construction and renovation, County Executive David R. Craig said he hopes to build added capacity into the schools and eliminate more than 100 portable classrooms within the next few years.

The county is moving forward with construction of two high schools -- Bel Air and Edgewood -- renovation of Joppatowne and Deerfield elementaries, and the building of two elementaries that will add nearly 1,300 seats and relieve severe crowding in the schools surrounding the county seat.

Craig, a former teacher and administrator, has recommended nearly $122 million for construction and renovation of schools at 24 sites throughout the county in what is the largest capital proposal for education in Harford's history.

"We have needed to do this for too long," he said after touring the $80 million Bel Air High School under construction near downtown and scheduled for a 2009 opening.

The county will soon break ground for Edgewood High, which is expected to open in 2010. Patterson Mill, the county's first new high school in more than 20 years, opened last year.

"It basically catches us up," Craig said. "This is what it takes to get our children ready for the future."

Officials hope to add more seats to most schools in anticipation of BRAC, the nationwide military base realignment and closings, which promises to bring about 10,000 jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"We are looking at making all the schools a little bigger to accommodate BRAC," Craig said. "We want space all over the county, so people can live where they want to."

Several Cabinet members accompanied Craig on the construction tour, as did Councilman James V. McMahan, a Bel Air High alumnus who represents the town.

"Today I saw the future, and I am very pleased," McMahan said.

The new school includes an expanded auditorium, which will serve as a cultural arts center for Bel Air.

"The auditorium will be the focal point for many activities in this town," McMahan said.

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