New home for the Warriors offers lessons in school building

March 14, 2012

Talk about rebuilding or replacing Havre de Grace High School got me to thinking.

Talk about rebuilding or replacing Havre de Grace High School got me thinking.

For more than a year, some noticeable changes have been taking place at the school. It started with the removal of what for generations had been the school's tennis courts tucked behind the gym at the corner of Adams and Bourbon streets. It's been a long time since they've been used for tennis. In recent years as they fell further and further into disrepair, they had been used primarily for baseball, lacrosse and softball teams seeking a dry spot during the cold, wet months of spring. Last year, for the first time, that was wasted space. The fence was removed and the blacktop was dug up supposedly for the removal of a long-buried fuel tank. The usable practice space was supplanted by a wholly unusable space planted in grass seed and suffering from the settling that comes in the first year or so after undisturbed ground has been disturbed.

Removing the fuel tank was one of the early steps in the larger process of putting in new heating and air conditioning systems, HVAC, as the pros call it, for the auditorium and the gym. Across Juniata Street from the auditorium's parking lot, there are other changes to the Havre de Grace High School complex. Tomahawk Field, as the original football/soccer field was known to generations of HHS students, is no more. It became James Harris Field, as it was renamed in honor of the coach, who not only led the Warriors to a regional championship in 1974 on that field and in 1978 led the team to the school's first state championship, but also saved the football program when it teetered on the brink of extinction.

The new James R. Harris Stadium is a couple of football fields north of the original on Juniata Street. Crossing Juniata and then going south less than a block brings the trip around the HHS complex full circle, sort of, back to the main building. That brings us to the proposal of a new high school building. Harford County Executive David R. Craig has floated the idea in the past year or so that Havre de Grace deserves a new high school as much as any other Harford County community. As someone who graduated from and coached at Havre de Grace High School, as did Craig, albeit several years before the county exec, I agree.

What comes next is anyone's guess. There was supposed to be a public meeting, at least according to a recent announcement at a Havre de Grace City Council meeting made by Councilman Randy Craig, the county exec's son and another HHS grad. That meeting was canceled, according to school officials, until the planning phase gets a little further along. That's what got me to thinking. Planning, or more precisely, the stark lack thereof of meaningful planning, so often comes from large bureaucracies. And Harford County Public Schools is nothing if it's not a large bureaucracy. That bureaucracy has had some notable boondoggles in recent construction projects. Building the ceiling in Aberdeen High School's newest gym too low to meet the minimum required by playing rules is but one example.

At Havre de Grace High School, what's been going on and what's being discussed for the not too distant future, is shaping up as another. What's been done has been piecemeal and may or may not fit with plans for an overhauled or new school. If the brouhaha from a half-century ago over the construction of the "new gymnasium" across Congress Avenue from the school is any indicator, there will be much discussion, some of it heated, before "the plan" for a new Havre de Grace High School is complete.

Craig, the county exec, told members of The Record editorial board some time back that he would like to see the building oriented toward Juniata Street. He also said he prefers that Congress Avenue, where coincidentally he lives less than three blocks east of the school, be kept open to traffic as it is, except during school hours 180 days a year. He said his son has expressed a preference for permanently closing the 800 block Congress Avenue between the school and the gym to vehicle traffic.

Volney Ford, one of the driving forces behind the construction of the new James R. Harris Stadium, had it right a number of years ago. When he started making the idea for Harris Stadium public, it was part of a larger plan for redoing the whole Havre de Grace High School campus.

That's how it should be done – everything at the HHS complex should be part of "the plan." l can hear the start of the yapping from school leaders about how that's the way it's always done. In this case, that's true, sort of, even though it will come after a lot of time and money have been spent already redoing parts of the campus.

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